James Francis Flynn
January 2019 Story

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I Found The Secret To Life On The Lower Lot At Universal Studios Hollywood



You know how, when someone is diagnosed, other people will say things like 'She's a fighter!'
or 'This disease doesn't stand a chance!'?

No one would ever say that about me.

And I knew that about myself when the doctor told me my prognosis (spoiler alert: not good), 
and really, I was just so tired already. So when he launched into that speech, speaking quickly 
to keep my attention, about all the Amazing New Medications and Treatments We Could Explore and
Ways We Could Fight It, I was already floating above my body, and I was surprised to look down 
and and hear myself say:

'Stop.'

He did, mid-sentence.

'Excuse me?'

'Just stop.'

'Please. I know this is a difficult time, but I want to inform you of your options so that --'

'I already know what I'm going to do,' I said. 

I took the brochures he gave me and stood up, most of me rejoining my body as I walked out
the door, but a small part of me remained (and still remains) floating above his office.

**

That night, I was up late on a Netflix binge of old episodes of 'The Office' (the American 
one, OK? I'm not cultured), and one of the episodes was about the fat bald guy maybe having 
skin cancer and waiting the whole show for his diagnosis, and of course I'm letting big fat 
drops of tears fall into my ice cream while I was watching it, and then in one of those 
talking head shots Pam says this:

'If I knew I had a week to live, I would probably go to Europe. And South America. And the 
Grand Canyon. And I would want to see the Pacific Ocean. It would be a pretty busy week.'

And I was like, 'Exactly!'' In fact, I think I said that very word out loud as I slammed 
the pint on the coffee table and the spoon clattered out of the carton and onto the floor 
and I scared the cats off the couch and I stood up and just stood there for a long time, standing.

So that's how it all started, this whole idea of traveling and leaving my old life behind and 
going out with a bang, because I knew I wasn't going to do any of those gross medical 
procedures and I knew I didn't have the money or the insurance to do them even if I wanted to, 
and really I just wanted to travel until it was time to die. 

All I'd ever wanted to do my whole life was travel, but I never got to when I was a kid because 
my parents were scared of brown people due of Fox News and Facebook memes, and also I took on 
tons of debt to go to college out of state (Indiana, but still) and I worked as a waitress 
throughout college so I could never do study abroad programs even though a boy I had a crush on 
was trying to get me to go to Florence with him one summer and that's one regret you'll never 
not regret, and now I'm saddled with student loans that are still over 100K and high rent because
I live in Logan Square and I worked 60+ hours a week anyway, so who could ever afford to 
make time for a trip?

Well, I decided to burn my life to the ground anyway, so I went into work and I told my boss 
I was quitting, and he tries to get me to stay but no.

So I spent the rest of the week on the couch, making a list on the notes app on my phone about 
where I wanted to go, and the sky is the limit! I didn't hesitate to think of any place I've 
ever dreamed of going, because I was withering away anyway so why not let my mind soar?

Florence: think about my old crush
Paris
Spain: Barcelona?
Dublin: Guinness tour
Jamaica
Argentina
Macchu Picchu
Hawaii
Grand Canyon
California: Venice Beach?

Pam was right: that would be a busy week.

I closed my notes app and checked my Bank of America app, and realized there was a big gap 
between my desires and my savings account, so I would just have to choose one or two places 
from above and make it count.

The more I thought about it, the more realistic I got, and I had to admit to myself, as painful 
as it was, that I just wasn't up to going abroad. Not because I'm my parent's child and I was 
scared of being in a foreign country with a bunch of foreigners, but because I didn't have the
energy anymore. This sickness seemed to be sucking all the life force from my body, and the 
thought of sitting on a plane for 12 hours felt impossible.

So I would stay in the US. But where?

I did my standing brunch date with my girlfriends at Lula Cafe that Sunday, which was packed 
as usual. That's when I decided to break the news to them.

'Guys, I wanted you to be the first to know that I'm- '

I looked at each of them in turn, about to tell them I was dying. Suddenly, my face got really 
hot and I felt like I could hear every single noise amplified in the entire restaurant – a baby 
cooing while her mom feeds her, silverware scraping on plates, the busboy in the back doing 
dishes with the faucet raging like a waterfall.

'Dana, you OK?' Steph asked.

I shook my head. 'Yeah, just- '

'Keep going. It was a good start,' Alice said. 'You wanted us to be the first to know...what?'

'I'm going on a trip,' I said quickly, and sipped my bloody mary. I couldn't tell them 
the truth – or at least, I could only tell them the partial truth. I don't know why.

'Nice!  Where to?'

'You're not going to see your family finally, are you?'

'Oh hell no,' I said, almost doing a spit take.

'Of course, I didn't mean– ' she stopped. 'Forget I said it. Where then?'

'California, I guess?' I said.

'You guess? I went last year, it's so great. That's gonna be amazing.'

'Which part?'

'LA, I think.'

'So cool!'

'Can I hide out in your suitcase?' They all laughed. I did too.

'Why this trip though? Is there like a guy or something we don't know about?'

'No, no guy!'' I laughed. ”I just – I felt like I wanted to get away. Somewhere warm.”

Another chance to tell them, to get it off my chest. Why wasn't I taking this opportunity?

“That's awesome!” Steph said, raising her glass. I finished my drink and waved the waiter down to order another one.

I left brunch hovering above. I had a secret. I was dying but I was refusing to utilize any available treatments and my hair was going to start falling out soon and I would lose massive amounts of weight and I would turn into an old lady they would rapidly not recognize and instead of fighting it or spending time with them or anyone else I knew in my last days on earth, I was going to travel solo and live out those days alone and I knew it was selfish but I didn't care because it was my life and I wanted to do it and I was going to do it and no one was going to stop me.

I felt exhilarated. I felt lightheaded. I knew I didn't have much longer to live, but other than a vague estimate, the doctor couldn't tell me either, and it suddenly felt like I was simultaneously on borrowed time as well as in some sort of weird bonus life. Part of me wishes the doctor had given me a real timeline, a ticking clock, so I could time everything out. But no. I was in limbo, gloriously so. I could be dead any day now, so I could do anything.

Suddenly, my body was humming. Maybe it was, for the first time in my life, a fleeting lack of fear of death. Maybe it was the disease, coursing through me. Maybe it was the thrill of having my own little secret. Maybe it was all the bloody marys.

I rode up up up the escalator and levitate onto the El train, on my way home to pack for my trip west.

**

Los Angeles. Palm trees. Mountains. Traffic. Movie stars. Sunglasses indoors. In-N-Out Burger. Sidewalk scooters. Legal weed.

As I walked through the terminal toward baggage claim, I laughed my ass off while I passed by one of Dr. Dre's headphone kiosks.

A country song was playing from their little speakers. The lyrics were: “I went skydivin' / I went Rocky Mountain climbing / I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu / And I loved deeper / And I spoke sweeter / And I gave forgiveness I had been denying / And he said someday I hope you get the chance / To live like you were dying.”

I took my phone out and Shazam'ed it. It was Tim McGraw, and it was aptly titled “Live Like You Were Dying”, and it seemed tailor made for me at that moment. So as I walked away, ignoring the woman who thought I was trying to buy headphones from her store, I pledged to myself:

“OK, Tim McGraw,” I said. “I'll do that for you, dude. I'll live like i'm dying.”

Got my bag and my shuttle bus to the rental car, a vast lot. I got a convertible (because YOLO). Put Venice Beach into Google Maps and drove straight there, got lost a few times on one-way streets, paid way too much to park. Walked along the Venice Boardwalk, took selfies in front of a big VENICE sign near the beach. Watched cute shirtless guys skateboard at a skate park, saw some old guy with dreads playing guitar while riding by on rollerblades, checking out surfers nearby crashing into the waves.

I had lunch, then went searching for pot. I didn't know where to find it, and my Google search wasn't quite working, so I asked one of those guys selling CDs on the street, the kind who presses it into your hand without you asking and then wants for a “donation”. I knew his ruse, but accepted the CD anyway, and used that to get a bud shop recommendation from him.

Here's how it works: you go to this strip mall, and you know you're in the right place because the windows are blacked out, but there's a big white flag outside with a huge green cross on it. The place is refers to itself as a Caregiver, a Collective or an Herbal Healing Center, and of course there's usually a reference to 420 somewhere, anywhere, everywhere.

You walk in the door and it actually looks similar to any other doctor's office, except they have brochures about different types of buds and vape pens. Some beefy guy checks your ID, gives you a laminated card, and says “Have fun!”

They unlock an inner door, and in you go. A series of clear display cases, like you might see in a jewelry store, line the walls. One has all the edibles, another has waxes for vaping, another has groups of mason jars with nugs, and a cooler is in the corner with drinks and snacks laden with THC. 

The people working the counters are called “Budtenders”. Ask one for some strong sativa and she'll open one of the mason jars carefully, like she's a sommelier uncorking an aged vintage, the clasp on the jar making a satisfying click and pop. And like a glass of wine, you sink your nose down in it and take a strong sniff. Grass clippings, surprising hints of citrus, skunk. You nod appreciatively, as though you're a connoisseur.

You make your choices, give your laminated pass to the check-out clerk, and they give you a large white plastic envelope with your edibles and small green medicine bottles with little green balls of joy inside. And you skip your way out the door.

I eat a pot cookie on the way to my Airbnb, check in, drink wine and eat tacos and another cookie for dessert since I didn't feel anything yet, watching the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean. I feel content.

Then it all goes wrong. My mouth starts to feel dry, the wine feels like chalk in my mouth. There's a heavy feeling that settles in my chest, I suddenly am dizzy. I try to lie down on the couch, but I'm too restless so I stand up. As I do so, waves of energy flow up from my feet to the top of my head, making me wobbly. I grab onto a pillar, hold a moment, shaking my head.

My body is vibrating, a strange tingle like low-level electricity flowing through my mid-center. It feels wrong. I have to tell myself you can't die from cannabis, but it kind of feels like I am anyway. Was I feeling my condition coursing through my body, right now?

I think about drinking more wine to calm my nerves, but thinking of drinking anything – alcohol or otherwise -- is impossible. I check my pulse compulsively. I take deep breaths to try to calm down, but my lungs don't seem up to it. 

I think I'm dying, I think I'm having a heart attack, I'm think I'm going crazy. I'm shaking with chills, but my sweaty are feet. I don't want to feel like this anymore, but I don't know how to stop it. 

I throw the rest of the pot in the trash. I'm going to die. I know I'm not – not from the pot, at least – because I've felt like this before (a bad experience back in college smoking out of an old Coke can), but this is just so intense. 

I want to cry out for help, so I try to calm myself down by scrolling through Facebook on my phone again, and for a moment it calms me down, and I get a little embarrassed and feel silly because I know this will pass, but it feels so real and scary and immediate when you're in the middle of it. Like I am now.

I write how I'm feeling on my phone, because I want to remember it, and then turn it off. There's no way to end this other than to endure it. It feels like a self-inflicted wound, a punishment I gave myself on accident.

I turn on the TV in this strange house I'm staying in, watch old episodes of “The Office”, think about what Pam said and think about how I'm actually doing it. The episodes all seem super-sized, the screen too big. Nothing seems funny – aren't you supposed to get the giggles when you're high? I feel scared instead, much too serious.

I feel like I'm in a time loop, reliving the same feelings, having the same thoughts over and over, and I can't stop it. The show starts, the show ends, another begins. The theme song plays again. It's infinite.

I turn off the TV and put the CD I bought earlier in my laptop. I press play. It's freestyle rap, and it's bad. I fall asleep, finally.

**

I woke up feeling sort of normal. I ate ice cream for breakfast and checked my phone, and was surprised to see a ton of texts, voicemails (who leaves voicemails anymore?!), and Facebook messages. The little red notifications on my phone icons were bigger than I'd ever seen them, and I wracked my brain to figure out why.

Then I remembered.

In the depths of my paranoia, I wrote “I think I'm dying” on my Facebook page, and then turned off my phone. So this would everyone checking in on me (well, and my doctor, but he doesn't count).

The irony is that I was referring to being too high, which can't kill you. But I actually am dying from a separate issue, and no one knows besides me. Secrets are fun.

I responded to no one, deleted the post, and finished my ice cream. I checked my email and saw a message from my mom, the subject heading “I Love You”. I turned my phone off again.

Because I was a tourist, I drove to Hollywood and visited the Walk of Fame. I took a photo of my hand flipping off Donald Trump's star, met Captain Jack Sparrow and Spiderman, put my hands in the Jane Fonda peace sign in the concrete at Mann's Chinese Theater.

While I was taking pictures, my phone rang. It was my mom.

I declined my mom's call.

She called again.

I declined again.

She called.

I declined.

Called.

Declined.

Then she texted me: “Dana Louise Taylor, you need to answer your phone. Now.”

It was at that moment that I wished I had join the witness protection program instead of having come to California.

She called again and that time I did answer and just to annoy her I affected the breeziest tone of voice I could muster and acted super casual:

“Hey mom, what's up?”

“What's this about you dying?!”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean! I saw it on Facebook. Honey, what's going on?”

And this was a fork in the road. I could have told her. But secrets can be power, and I wanted to have power over her, so I didn't tell her. Besides, it was much more fun to tell her this:

“It's nothing, Mom, it's just because I got way too stoned last night. Weed is legal here in California, you know.”

“My God, what on earth are you doing in California? And what makes you think it's a good idea doing drugs?”

“Maybe it isn't. Just like watching Sean Hannity every night isn't a good idea. But we all make our choices, mom.”

“I don't need another lecture on my programs, dear. I just called to make sure you were OK. And it really doesn't sound like it.”

“Well, I'm currently 2000 miles away from you, so I'm doing great, thanks.”

She sighed, there was a silence.

“Why do you say such hurtful things?”

I scoffed.

“Really,” she said. “Really, I want to know.”

“You really do? Really?”

“I really do, yes, because I feel like I've been a good mother to you and all I get back is grief.”

I thought about telling her why I hate her – about how she took the door off the hinges my sophomore year, about when she broke every CD I owned after hearing something on Rush Limbaugh about music corrupting teens, about all the Jack Chick tracts she's send me in care packages at college requesting I spread them around campus. I thought about all the evil shit she did to me in the name of Jesus and Fox News, and instead of going off on a rant, I just said:

“No.”

“What?”

“No,” I said again. I'm not going to tell you why. Why I hate you so much. I'm going to die before you do, and you're going to live the rest of your life wondering why, and it's going to eat you alive.” Then I hung up and turned my phone off.

I've been wanting to say a version of this to my mom for at least a decade. I've fulfilled my vow to you, Tim McGraw.

I had planned to go to Disneyland next, but then I googled it and realized Anaheim wasn't close to LA at all, especially with traffic. It was a blessing in disguise, really, because I didn't need Mickey in my life that moment, I needed a goddamned drink.

Because I am a responsible adult, I left my car in the lot and called an Uber.

When I got in, I asked the driver to take me to the crappiest dive bar he knew, but one that's not in a sketchy part of town. He had to google it, and while he was parked on the side of the street, I searched “best dive bars LA” and one of the first ones that pops up was called Ye Rustic Inn and that sounded about right to me so I had him take me there.

It was dark. It smelled like bad chicken wings. They were blasting heavy metal on the jukebox and there was football on TV, and whoever was playing was playing in the snow, and I realized it was Sunday, and I was missing Chicago hard. 

I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer and sent a group text selfie I took on the walk of fame to my girlfriends and I was feeling really nostalgic and the Bears were playing and my friends texted back that they got done with brunch earlier and were hanging out all afternoon and I could almost cry. I ordered a shot of Jameson and then as if on cue the Bears scored a touchdown, so I took the shot and winced and a table of guys nearby started singing “Bear Down” and I joined in, and one of the guys came over to buy me a beer. They didn't have Old Style, of course, so he bought me a Budweiser. 

“Are you from Chicago?” he asked.

“Ohio, actually. But I've been living there for about a decade.”

“You live there now?”

I nodded.

“What brings you to LA?” he asked.

“Just visiting.”

“You know, my brother-in-law and his family always come out from Chicago around this time every year to escape the cold. That what you're doing? Smart move.”

“Yeah, that sounds cool. But I'm here to meet cute guys.”

“Oh yeah?” he said.

“Yep,” I said. “Should we do another shot?”

I realized I was laying it on thick, but I really wanted some dick. You can't blame a dying girl for trying. 

“Sure. On one condition,” he said. “You gotta tell me your name first.”

“Dana.”

“Billy.”

We shook hands and took another shot.

The rest of the night was a blur. The Bears won. More shots. I remember standing at the juke box with him and picking out the silliest 90's music we could find. I remember he introduced me to his table of friends, but then came back and sat with me at the bar. He bought a pitcher. He used to live in Lincoln Square, moved out here to be a screenwriter and has been working in reality TV, had some co-workers tell him some crazy stories about Trump from when they used to work on The Apprentice. I remember suddenly making out with him at the bar. His friends whooped and cheers us on from the table; the bartender kicked us out. I remember his hands under my bra, feeling me up in the parking lot, us both laughing at passersby watching.

He called an Uber and we went back to his place nearby and had sex on the floor, right by the kitchen next to the dog's bowl. It smelled like kibbles and I thought I might puke, but I held on. He tried to use a condom but I told him not to, and he didn't put up a fight.

I waddled to the bathroom, naked, with some of his come dripping down my leg. I wiped it all out, peed, then washed my face. I ran my hands through my hair and a big chunk came out in my hands.

Suddenly I was sober.

I looked down at the clump of hair in my palm, and shuddered. I threw it in the toilet and flushed it, then inspected my scalp. A bald spot.

The hair clogged his toilet. Great! There was no plunger so I just left.

I quickly walked out back to the kitchen area to find him propped up on one arm, underwear on, petting his dog, drinking a glass of water.

“You OK?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, grabbing my clothes and putting them on as rapidly as I could manage.

“You can, like, stay if you want,” he said. “You don't have to just go.”

“No, it's all good,” I said, hooking my bra. “Long day tomorrow. Plus I gotta get my car from the lot anyway.”

He was a nice guy, so he asked for my phone number and kissed me goodnight as I left to wait for my Uber. I spent the whole ride back to Hollywood and Highland looking at myself in my phone camera, seeing how much I could cover my dwindling hair, and wondering how much worse it was going to get.

**

Disneyland. I was surprised at how not crowded it was as I wandered around looking at the map on the app. I went to Space Mountain first based on a recommendation from the super-friendly lady who sold me my ticket, and as I was waiting in line, the texts started:

“Hey u! Had a great time last nite!!”

It was Billy, who apparently doesn't mind hair-clogged toilets.

I wanted to text back:

“Hey boo! You fucked a ghost last nite!!”

But I didn't. The notifications on my phone kept increasingly, making my palms sweaty every time I held my phone. I turned it off instead.

Space Mountain was fun, but all I could think about was texting him or not texting him and if I got pregnant last night and my mom and my dad and my friends back in Chicago and my student loan debt and my stupid sickness and everything else besides being at The Happiest Place On Earth.

I felt like I couldn't get away from my past, my family, my genes, and all I wanted to do escape from it, leave it behind, be rid of it.

In the single rider line for Splash Mountain, I was behind a young (thirteen? fourteen?) girl who was on her phone, taking selfies with animal ears superimposed on her face. Her battery ran out and her phone turned off, so she put it in her bad and looked around. I was people-watching when she leaned over to me:

“First time?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “You?”

She laughed in a way that made her seem twice her age.

“Um, no. I've been on this ride like a million times.”

“Do you live around here or something?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you here with your family, or...?”

“No,” she said.

I felt like I was prying all of a sudden, so I let the silence hang there.

She sighed.

“My mom works a ton, so she brings me here after school.”

“I see,” I said.

“Better than a babysitter, I guess.”

“Totally,” I said, trying to sound peppy.

The conversation stalled, and I felt a sudden need to get out of line, so I did.

“Have fun,” I said to her.

“You too,” she said.

I walked quickly out of line, brushing past patrons, unable to stop thinking about that girl. I wandered my way through the park, riding rides, imagining becoming part of each: one of the buccaneers on Pirates of the Caribbean, a singing puppets on Splash Mountain, a ghost in the graveyard in the Haunted Mansion. I wanted to hide in those rides, blend in so they wouldn't notice me, and stay until I died.

In New Orleans Square, I ate too many beignets and chased them with a Coke because there's no alcohol at Disneyland (the cashier told me there was booze at California Adventure Park, but that required a separate ticket – oops!). I ordered a churro too because I was finally definitely done working on my bikini body.

Halfway through standing in line for the Indiana Jones ride, they closed it down and kicked everybody out. I asked an employee what happened, and he glanced both ways before whispering to me:

“Somebody scattered some ashes on the ride, so we have to clean it out.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “Who does that?”

“Honestly? Happens pretty much every day,” he said, shaking his head.

“What the fuck?” I said.

“I know, right?”

It wasn't even dark yet, but I took that as my cue to leave.

**

Universal Studios. I didn't even want to go anymore, I was tired of rides, but I already bought the ticket, and it was like $120 dollars or something. So I got out of the pajamas I desperately desired to spend all day in, and drove across that lovely LA traffic. I parked in their lot and entered through Universal City Walk, which is basically a big outdoor mall with a Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant and a giant guitar statue, for some reason. After going through metal detectors, I took some selfies at the Universal Logo statue (it spins!) and went inside.

The texts continued. Billy apparently didn't want to believe what we had was just a one-night stand, my friends were asking when I was coming back and would I make it to the next brunch, and my mom was asking just exactly how much pot I had smoked since I had arrived, and was it more or less than the baggie she found under my bed when I was 17.

I turned my phone off. 

What to do? I had read that the Studio Tour was a must-see, so I walked through the Upper Lot, turned right, passing by the Harry Potter area (which took almost all my willpower), through the Simpsons section, and down an escalator to the line for the tour. They have big posters of popular movies with famous quotes to look at while you wait: “Say hello to my little friend!” “If you build it, they will come.” They give you a pair of 3D glasses and put you on a big white tram, and down you go down a hill through the actual working studio, with soundstages for TV shows and movies and a fascimile of New York City streets and then you put those 3D glasses on so that you can watch King Kong kick the shit out of a dinosaur. 

There's Jaws! The guy from Psycho comes out of the motel to chase the tram! There's a Wisteria Lane! Jimmy Fallon talks you through it all. Then the Fast and Furious folks take you on another 3D glasses ride thing, and then it's over.

What next? I went down to the lower lot and rode the Jurassic Park ride. I got good and wet when it dropped us 80 feet to the bottom.

I didn't know what to do next. I walked past The Mummy ride. I walked over to the Transformers ride, decided I didn't want to do it. I couldn't stop thinking about my mom, to be honest. I wanted to call her and tell her to fuck off. I wanted to be from a different family. I wanted to sink into the ground.

Just then, a door opened and a giant robot walked out of it, with smoke curling around his feet. I never watched the Transformers movies or the cartoon when I was a kid, but I knew enough pop culture to know it was Megatron, the bad guy on the show. He started talking to the assembled crowd in a mean-sounding voice, occasionally making fun of people's hats or shirts. He gestured with a scary large bent metal spike that was in place one of his hands. He was actually pretty funny; I assume it was a standup or sketch comic inside the robot suit: it was almost like he was doing a comedy roast like they do on TV, but with the patrons of the park instead of famous people.

Suddenly, there was a little commotion, and the park handlers made a break in the line so that someone could come through. And seemingly from nowhere, a kid in a wheelchair, pushed by his two parents, went to the front. He was wearing a light blue shirt with a logo I recognized and had a balloon tied to his wheelchair, and Megatron asked the assembled crowd to clap for him, which we did.

“Humans! I want you to meet my friend,” Megatron said, his robotic voice booming. “On your silly planet, he is known as Joe. But on my planet, he is a legend, a myth, a tall-tale. On my planet, he is not Joe, he is Captain Laser-Chop!”

Joe aka Captain Laser-Chop pumped his fist. The crowd cheered.

Megatron continued: “Captain Laser-Chop, join me in mechanical immortality! An Autobot would not make you this offer! It was legendary to meet you today. I will store this moment in my memory banks forever –  the pleasure is all mine!”

I assume they took pictures then, but I didn't see what happened next because I was crying.

I ran into the Panda Express and sat at a table to hide my face and cry. I couldn't tell you exactly what I was feeling at that moment, but whatever it was, it was warm. I was so happy for that kid that he was made to feel special in that moment, that the man on stilts in a stupid clunky cartoon costume went out of his way to make that kid special, that his parents who probably spend every day struggling to take care of him for once got to feel special before he died.

As I wiped away more tears, another big clump of hair came out. I wrapped it in a panda logo napkin and place it on the table, and as I do so, Captain Laser-Chop and his family emerged from the inside of the restaurant to the outdoor seating area I was sitting in with their trays and their lunches and their fountain drinks fizzing away and I realized I was taking up an entire 6 person table all to myself and I wasn't even eating, so I stood up and motioned for them to take my table.

Captain Laser-Chop's Mom approached and gave me a smile.

“Are you finished? Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yeah, please, you can have the table,” I said.

“Thank you,” her husband, Mr. Lazer-Chop, said.

They wheeled Captain Laser-Chop over, and I wanted to say something, anything, but I felt like a weirdo and I'm sure my mascara was a streaky black mess, so I just started walking away, but then Captain Lazer-Chop, the legend himself, nudged me with his hand.

“Hey,” he said. His voice was thick, almost unintelligible. He showed me a cell phone.

“What's this?” I asked.

“This is a super cool dude,” he said.

And on the cell phone were pictures of him with Megatron, the pictures he just took. And he was smiling so big, and he looked so proud, and I had to bite my lip to keep from breaking down again.

“Yeah, it sure is,” I said, biting my bottom lip. “Hope you're having a good day. The best day.”

“You too!” he said, and turned away to eat with his family. I watched them for a moment.

Then I threw my hair napkin away. I walked around, saw another man in stilts in a velociraptor outfit growling at kids, and more stilt people acting like Egyptian gods and goddesses, as they towered over the crowds.

I rode the 4 escalators back upstairs and went to the Harry Potter area, right to the Hog's Head bar and ordered a glass of red wine to calm my nerves, ate some free breadsticks even though I wasn't hungry.

The bartender checked my ID.

“Chicago, huh?” she asked. “My roommate is from there.”

“I'm not actually from there,” I replied. “I'm from Ohio originally.”

“Oh cool,” she said, setting down my drink. “Here on vacation?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“Well, enjoy. Let me know if I can get you anything else,” she said, walking away to clean some glasses.

“Actually,” I said, “It's not really a vacation.”

“Oh?” she said, stopping mid-step.

“Truth is, I'm dying. I don't know how much time I have left, but I'm going to die, and I'm going to die soon, and I wanted to take a trip, see the ocean before I'm dead.”

“Oh my god,” she said. “I really don't know what to say. I'm sorry.”

“It's OK,” I said, and finished my wine in one (hobo-esque) gulp.

I left the waitress the tip of a lifetime in cash, and walked out of the bar.

As I exited the front gate of Universal Studios, I started to float. An inch or two at first, but then I was over the logo globe and above Universal City and I could see the parking garage where my car was and the freeway below and the porn shops and vape stores and the mountains and palm trees that overlook them. 

My mind raced like it does when I meditate. I thought about how I wanted to take a selfie up there, but decided against it. I thought about how everyone and everything looked like ants from above. I thought about the look on the doctor's face in when I refused his treatments. I thought of the hurt tone in my mom's voice on the phone. I thought I could feel my body change, degrade, devolve, destroy itself in incremental ways.

I was surveying it all as I soared through the air, heading east, the desert expanding in front of me, rapidly changing to plains and farmland. I hovered above it all. And as much as I was amazed by my sudden powers of unassisted human flight, I was also really cold, so I pulled my sweater tighter as I was dodged clouds towards the town where I was born. Time seemed to have no meaning here in the sky before I knew it I landed in my parent's lawn, performing a flawless barrel roll and emerging on my feet.

I felt a magnetic need to see my family as I stepped onto their porch and looked in a window. My hair was completely gone now, my skin paper thin, my clothes hanging off my body. I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.



Story Behind The Story (Spoiler Alert):

OUTLINE: Lester dent https://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html 0-1500: 1: Our MC has a terminal illness. She decides to not treat it. 2: She quits her job, decides to travel. Doesn't tell anyone about her illness, keeps it a secret. She's avoiding it, trying to make it go away, not facing it head on. 3: Characters: Her friends, her estranged family (mom) – this will become important later. 4: Travels to LA and freaks out on edibles – fear of death. 5: Thinks she's dying, posts on FB about it (accidentally). 1500-3000: 1: Mom calls and gives her grief. 2: To self-medicate, she drinks and picks up a guy. 3: After sex with guy, some of her hair falls out – her illness is affecting her. 4: Hair won't flush, she's embarrassed, leaves. 3000-4500: 1: Goes to Disneyland, can't enjoy it – still thinking about the guy (who keeps texting her) and her family and all the problems of the old life she's trying to leave behind. 2: Imagines herself escaping into the rides. 3: Eats herself into a food coma – self-medication. 4: Fear of death – someone scatters ashes at the park. She leaves. 4500-6000: 1: Universal Studios. She's got stuff coming from all sides: Billy is contacting her, her friends are contacting her, her mom is contacting her, she can't mentally escape her disease 2: She turns her phone off and rides the rides, ignores the outside world. 3: She watches a make-a-wish foundation kid get special treatment from Megatron. 4: After talking to the kid, she finally admits to someone out loud that she's dying. 5: Taking initiative for the first time, and finally NOT avoiding things, she floats into the air magically, flying back east towards the town she grew up in. 6: She knocks on the door of her childhood home. Who knows what awaits?
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