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Alumni Update: Gwen Mullins, Winter 2020-21

From time to time, different Kerouac House alumni will write in and tell us what they’ve been up to, or how their residency helped prepare them for the writing life. This month, we hear from Spring 2018 resident, Gwen Mullins.

New Year’s Eve at Jack’s House (2020-21)

by Gwen Mullins

I fall in love with Jack on his own bed, his visage looking down upon me from behind annealed glass, his voice roaring out haiku accompanied by pink-panther saxophone jazz until even I can feel the beat, the headlong river of rhythm that thrummed through his veins. I am 47, the same age he was when he succumbed to the long dark road, and, for once, for the first time, I am alone on New Year’s Eve. My limbs loosen, my joints expand, and I long for the very essence of a man who influenced a generation into thinking they could be more by doing less. I yearn, but for what? A deep fuck from an unwashed drifter? The same flame that kindled his furious typing, smoking, pill-popping, LSD-melting artist’s heart?

Gwen Mullins, Winter 2020-21 writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House.
Gwen Mullins, Winter 2020-2021 writer in residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando
But I’m afraid of pills and meth, having watched them wreak havoc across the Appalachian foothills, my own family taking full measure of our share of suffering. My husband’s dead mother and oft-addled sister, high school friends with teeth chipped and greige. I tried mushrooms, once, chewed them up with Aldi’s-brand chocolate-hazelnut spread and washed down with glass after glass of tap water, safely ensconced in my little blue house, a curated soundtrack playing all night and into the morning as the bathroom tiles throbbed and shimmied under our improbably diaphanous feet.

I roll another joint, take another sip of bourbon weakened by melting, musty Florida ice, and fall asleep before the streaming lights of the great ball drop on a Times Square that is militantly empty save for pop star avatars.

As I drift on the layers of purple punch (Jack called it tea, and I have taken to storing my own stash in a vacuum-sealed canister that once held blackberry-sage, the tea for wisdom), I imagine how I would appear to him, to his buzzing, scribbling friends with their dirty toenails and tobacco-stained fingers. A middle-aged lady with hair gone gray, clad in stretchy black pants and a wireless bra, whose thrift store leather jacket hangs next to a bespoke blue shirtwaist, eking out words and sentences and slant rhymes that recall scant times, sprawling with want on his narrow bed. Want of sex, yes, while my own spouse waits at home (I hope), but not just that. A persistent want of more, more, more, always more. Something new, a sight not yet seen, a road not yet taken that will change everything, and, in the end, nothing.

The gunshot of fireworks and the long SunRail whistle and the barred owl who hoots outside my window permeate my sleep, the jazz fades to black, and in that liminal space I wake-dream that tomorrow, next year, I will be the same, only better. Leaner, more productive, nicer to strangers and my mother and my grown children and even my lonesome spouse. But I awake with a headache, as always, so I drink broth and coffee and lemon-scented tea. I avoid alcohol and food and weed. My body purges itself.

In the afternoon, I pretend to meditate. Practice, I remind myself. It’s a practice. I don’t know if I’m talking about meditating, living, or writing.

The day turns to dusk and I try to summon that urgency, that naked need, from my pre-midnight revelations, but I succeed only in writing this passage with a stomach that gurgles regret as I once again bow and scrape before the hounds of prose, immersed in the kind of privileged solitude I had not known to long for in the days when I dreamed through the winters, hunkering over second-hand paperbacks in my mother’s rented trailer, black-eyed peas simmering in salty, ham-speckled soup.