Infinite Us - Eden Butler



The thumping, incessant rhythm wasn’t welcome when the headache started.

Brooklyn was loud, midnight dark, full of chaos, adding to my insomniatic misery. But the noise from my upstairs neighbor wasn’t the only thing keeping me up. Numbers and algorithms coated my inner vision like some Pollock piece. My body? Stupid with tension—the kind of tight coil that twists your spine and keeps your shoulders from any damn thing but bunching pain.

The numbers, the darkness, all that chaos fought for space inside my head, dimmed by the racket I heard above me. That thumping, hyper noise of a drumbeat from some clueless asshole’s speakers in the upstairs apartment, tamped out the jazz pouring from my headphones. Coltrane was wicked, the smooth slip of his sax like the voice of God; the heady mix of condemnation and praise, pain that both harmed and healed in every note. But even the long, sweet whisper of the sax couldn’t overcome the thumping of the trespassing drums barging in or keep out the noise of the crazy bitch singing out of tune one floor up. Had to be a woman. No dude’s voice could be that high-pitched or whining.

For the fourth damn night.

Insomnia first became my side-piece in college. Every night for four years, the noise of frat brothers stepping in line to DMX and his gravely-voiced barks in “Get It On the Floor” in the quad, the Alpha Phi Alphas and Omega Psi Phis vying for bragging rights of who was the flyest with every step-dance they made, and the general disturbance of new-held adolescent debauchery kept sleep from me. Those Omegas always won.

I’d trained my mind then, let insomnia linger until there was an uneasy relationship between us—me tolerating the elusive hum of sleep and that affliction keeping me from it. I’d wrangle four hours of sleep, plenty for a Computer Science major, enough to ace my classes. Enough that I didn’t look like an old man when I left for MIT. By then, insomnia had become the ride-or-die chick that refused to leave me. Got tied down to that bitch. Now I wanted a divorce.

That racket from the apartment above was not helping.

The noisy upstairs woman started a louder chant, something that reminded me of the weird mess my twin Natalie watched every Halloween with her friends when we were kids back in Atlanta. Some movie with three white chicks from Salem, singing about spells and sucking the souls out of children. The one with the redhead woman that my assistant Daisy says likes to burn Kim Kardashian on Twitter. That shit was funny, hell of a lot funnier than the other movies she was in that made my mom laugh so loud when I was six. It was a Broadway phase she kept from my pops. Nothing like the witchy mess from that old movie, that nonsense was crap. And that’s what my new neighbor sounded like.

Four nights. Four nights of this rambling, tone-deaf torture. Four nights of the voice of God being drowned out. Four nights too many.

Coltrane fell silent when I pulled the headphones off and moved across my apartment, not giving a damn that my t-shirt was wrinkled when I picked it off the floor and tugged it over my head, not caring whether or not that loud woman would get pissed if I interrupted what had to be some nightly juju ritual.

My skin pebbled in the cool air from the vents at the elevator but I didn’t shake or cross my arms to get rid of the sensation. It fed me as I slipped into the car, ignored the quick flash of my reflection on the metallic doors showing the bags under my eyes, the streak of muscle that twitched when I stretched my shoulders. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to confront this chick, but I was tired and annoyed, and before I stopped to think about what I was doing, the elevator dinged and I stood right in front of 6-D’s door. There was a constant thump of a drum line bumping beneath the sliver of light at the bottom of the door; the only shadow I could make out slipped around that light, probably dancing to whatever voodoo junk pulsed from those speakers.

Coltrane was music. Spirit music. Deep, heart-aching music that seeped into your soul, filled in all the fragments that life left empty. This garbage? Hell no. This was racket and chaos set to a disjointed rhythm.

Two bangs of my fist and I stood