The Sunset Tree

Eric Bolton

It was during the summer in which I was 17 when I became the invisible boy around my house. It wasn’t so much that I had a bad home life. In fact, comparably speaking, I was raised pretty well. It wasn’t like something out of “Leave it to Beaver” where we’d all gather around the dinner table, eat a roast, and talk about our days. My parents were fairly hands-off. They never reminded me to do my homework, but at the same time, they never hit me for not doing it. Really, my childhood could’ve been a lot worse.

The true reason that I became the invisible boy was very simple; I got a car. When I was 16, I had to ask my parents for rides if I wanted to go anywhere, and I had to be home by 11:00 o’clock. That all changed on my 17th birthday, when my dad drove me to the DMV on Colorado St. in Santa Monica (which is where I lived at the time). I got my license with no problem; a 3-point turn, parallel park, and I was free to drive. My dad gave me his old Nissan Altima since he had just bought a new Jeep, and from then on, I spent dinnertime on either the PCH or on the 5. I spent my weekends on Sunset Boulevard seeking out celebrities I really had no interest in. I even spent my nights in the driver’s seat, waking up to the sunrise in the parking lot for Zuma Beach. My parents didn’t really worry about me being gone all the time. Like I said, they never made much of a fuss out of anything I did.

Having a car did lead to one unfortunate consequence: I needed money to pay for all that gas. Unlike a lot of the kids in my high school who had parents in the film industry, I had to pay for things myself. Therefore, I got a job as a dishwasher at Johnnie’s Pizza on the 3rd Street Promenade. In all honesty, it wasn’t that bad of a job. There were always good street performers to watch during my breaks, and my hours were all pre-dinner rush, so I had my nights free.

On one Friday during July, I was on the end of my shift, when I got the usual text message from my best friend Doug Segnini. It simply said “my house. 4:30.” We always met at his house. There was really no reason for it, since my house was just as capable of a meeting place as his. Sometimes you just get into a routine with those kinds of things.

I punched out at four, said goodbye to my boss, and walked out onto the busy promenade. It was a hot day, the kind where if you’re outside for more than five minutes, your shirt will form to your chest to show the public whether or not you work out regularly. My car was parked past the mall, near the beach, so I skipped the people watching in hopes of getting to Doug’s house on time.

When I got in my car, I immediately rolled down the windows as it was about 300 degrees in there, threw in my album of the day (Weezer’s “Pinkerton”), and pulled onto Route 2. Doug lived off of Wilshire Boulevard near Brentwood. His parents were pretty damn rich, which worked out well for us. We often had the house to ourselves, as both his mom and dad were lawyers who were dealing with important cases all the time. However, this also meant that Doug went to a private school in Brentwood Heights, so I didn’t get to see him much during the school year. During that particular summer though, we hung out pretty much every day.

I got to his house a half-hour late, and let myself in. Doug was in his room eating a bowl of cereal and watching a movie. He was wearing an old Pixies t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. His hair was red and mangy as if he hadn’t combed it in weeks. We were at the point where things as pedestrian as greetings were thrown aside. He stood up and turned off the TV. “So Dylan, really good plans tonight man. Good stuff. I was thinking we lay low for a little while. Maybe hit up Ameoba Records and pick up some stuff. You said you wanted to grab the new Mountain Goats record? I wanted to check out some stuff as well.”

“Like what?” I responded. I was always more succinct than Doug. I might’ve been the one with the license and the car, but he was always the wild one with the ambitions. I was just along for the ride.

“Umm, have you heard that new Destroyer album? It’s supposed to be killer. I also wanted to pick up a Van Morrison vinyl for my mom’s birthday. I was thinking of framing it. It’s her favorite album and all. What do you think?”

“It’s a great idea.”

“Thanks man. So anyway, after we get our tunes, I figure we’ll need some dinner. I’m cool with an In-N-Out burger if you are.” I was. “Alright, cool. So anyway, after we do all that, and get all of our pre-gaming and cruising done, I want to go to this beach party. This guy I go to school with is having it. It’s on El Matador Beach just past Malibu. There’s going to be all sorts of surfers and models there, and I know that might not be something you public school kids are interested in, but it should be really fun”

“What do you mean by ‘you public school kids?’ Just because I go to school with those bastards doesn’t mean I’m one of them.”

“That’s the spirit Dyl! Alright let me just grab the goods and we’ll be on our way.” Doug went to a box in his closet and pulled out “the goods:” a bottle of Adderall, a couple of joints, and six pack of PBR’s. He put the Adderall in his pocket, the joints in his socks, and the beers in a grocery bag, looked at me and said “Chop chop Dylan!” I gave my parents a quick call and told them I wouldn’t be home for dinner, then got in my car, and headed towards that hell-hole that is Hollywood.

On the way, I took 15 MG of Adderall. I know it’s not smart to mix drugs and driving. All those PSA’s the school gave us were right, but I was young and stupid. The Adderall kicked in while I was in Ameoba. Luckily, the extra jump in my step didn’t inspire me to buy 30 CD’s. I escaped with just the one new Mountain Goats album, and Doug, who also took 15 MG, got out with just his Destroyer and his Van Morrison vinyl. After that, we walked through the madness at the Chinese theater over to the In-N-Out burger on Sunset Boulevard. It was just as busy as usual, but we were able to get our food fairly quickly. After enjoying our milkshakes and cheeseburgers, we got back in the car, set controls for the heart of the setting sun, and drove back towards the coast.

At this point, the Adderall was wearing off, and my body was settling back to its normal condition. By the time we got back to the PCH, it was only 8 o’clock. The party wouldn’t even start for two more hours, so we stopped at a small beach somewhere between Malibu and Santa Monica to smoke our joints.

The air by the water was very cool, so I threw on a sweatshirt and walked out to the rocks that Doug was sitting on. As I sat next to him, he gave me the joint and we smoked together. Earlier in the summer, I would’ve described something like this as “a pristine moment with my best friend, and although my eyesight was fogged by the smoke surrounding us, I could see what it meant to be alive.” But after doing this kind of thing every night for two months, I finally just felt tired and out of focus, like I was stuck between stations on the radio. My eyes were groggy, and I felt sick, but I wasn’t ready to go home. Doug was desperate to really go for it that night, like a character in one of those early Bruce Springsteen songs looking for redemption, and willing to go through any means to find it.

For a while we had the usual meaningless kind of conversation we had been having all summer. We just talked about girls and music, funny TV shows we had seen recently, and if we really wanted to dig deep, we might even talk about books. After that wore down, I turned to Doug and said “Hey man, you ever wonder if we’ll still be doing this kind of stuff when we’re 30?”

“I hope so. I’d rather be here than working some desk job, going home to a wife who’s getting more wrinkles every day and kids that I don’t really love. After all, what else do you need? Ya know?”

“I don’t really know anymore,” I said. “This summer has been one of the best times of my entire life, and I wouldn’t lose it in for anything. And I know we’re fucking idiots sometimes. We get loaded up almost every night, drive around, maybe meet some girls, and are usually in bed by 3 at the earliest. I feel like I haven’t really talked to my parents in a week, and I really miss them. Every day I wake up, go to work, and then immediately go out for the rest of the night. I’m sure it’s going to change a lot when school starts again. You’ll go back to Brentwood Academy and I’ll be at SMHS. We’ll be applying to college and getting ready to bypass all this stuff. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision I’ve made for another five years of life.”

“Tell me Dylan, are you menstrual?”

I flicked Doug off, killed my joint, and smiled at him, “C’mon queer. Let’s get going.”

We got back in the car and drove the 20 miles to El Matador. I turned up the stereo and we sang every word to that Weezer album together as loud as we could. The windows were down, and although I was a little depressed when we were on the rocks, I was suddenly high again. I was ready to run into the welcoming arms of the night and drink from its breasts.

When we got there, there was a bonfire blazing, music playing, and people dancing like crazed tribal women in an African desert. It didn’t take long for me to lose Doug. He was absolutely electric, pulsating with energy and life. I stood on the side watching him tell elaborate stories that never happened, jumping around describing a fight he was never in, and trips he’d never had. He told one story in particular in which he was hopping a train: “I was got on the train just fine. I waited at the train yard until one started moving and then I found an open cart and jumped in. Since I didn’t have a car, it seemed like a good way to take a vacation north. So about two hours in, I’m in the middle of a nice cigar when we stop to change the track, and what happens but the door of  my cart opens! The conducter is pointing a gun at me, and so I booked it out of there and dove into the reeds next to the track. I had to hitchhike home from Fresno!” He was better than any actor or musician I had ever seen. You not only believed him, but you were constantly begging for more. His arms waved like those of a mad jester, and the laughs that returned to him were louder than any court of the king ever was.

I eventually took my place around the bonfire with the majority of the party. Most of the people there were in college, but I’ve always felt more comfortable with an older crowd than with the majority of the dumb-asses in my grade. I made small talk with a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl in a green bikini that was next to me. She was an English student at Pepperdine University. She was actually really beautiful and kind.

After about a half hour with her, she got up to talk to some of her friends from school. I passed the time by placing the tip of a stick in the flames, seeing it burn, and then blowing on the glowing embers. A man sitting next to me saw me and spoke up, “Bored?”

“A little. I never quite know what to do at these kinds of things.”

“Well, here’s something that should liven up your night.” He passed me a couple tabs of LSD. I had never done it before, but I really didn’t want to let the guy down. After all, it was a very generous gift. I put my tongue to the sheet of paper, thanked the man, and decided to go for a walk.

I walked the length of the beach, my shadow stretch out across the sand by the light of the full moon. Pretty soon I started to feel the effects of the acid. Everything had much more texture and certain sensations were extremely intense. It was as if I was a bystander and was letting the world envelope itself around me, with no power to stop it.

I eventually felt so out of it that I stopped walking and collapsed on the beach. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing and the feeling of the sand between my fingers. I was at least a mile from the party at this point, but in my mind, there was no party.

Suddenly a picture started to form before my closed eyelids; it was a hill with one great oak tree on top. The sun was setting and the air was warm. Around the tree was a young boy with his parents. The boy was running around the tree and rolling down the hill. His face was covered in dirt, his jeans coated in grass stains, and his ragged t-shirt ripped. It then occurred to me that this was me when I was younger. We used to take day trips to this park in San Diego, and even though the park was filled with a vast expanse of hills and even more trees, I always wanted to play at this one.

As soon as I realized that I was looking at my younger self, I took his place. All of a sudden, it was me being swung in the air by my parents hands. It was my face covered in dirt. The sky bathed us all in an orange-y pink glow, and the sunset tree’s leaves and branches swayed and danced in the wind.

After what felt like a lifetime spent playing on the hill, I could no longer find my parents. I was also no longer a small boy. I was a middle-aged man standing alone. I called out for my mother and my father but no one answered. I felt in my pockets but nothing was there. I had no money, no cards, no identity.

I lay down in the grass and closed my eyes. Just as I did, my eyes opened back at the beach. I was still tripping, and felt extremely ill, so I walked to the water to wash my face. By accident, some of the brackish water got in my mouth, which caused me to vomit into the ocean. I decided to try to get back to the party so no one would worry about me.

It took what seemed like hours, but I eventually arrived back at El Matador, exhausted, beaten, and sick. The fire was now down to a glow. There were far less people there than when I left, and most of them were either asleep or having sex. I saw Doug sleeping on his back, spread-eagled near the fire. I flopped down into the sand and was asleep within seconds.

I woke up a little after sunrise. There was sand in my hair and some bugs on my back that I had to wipe off. Doug was sitting by the small fire drinking coffee, so I walked over to him. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah sure.” he said. We got in the car and I drove him home. We didn’t talk much. In fact, I didn’t even tell him I got sick. When I pulled up to his house, he got out and said “I’ll call you later”

“See ya.” I said.

I backed out of his driveway, turned on the radio and got back on the road. The sun was now fully in the sky and the roads were busy with people driving to work. At a stop light, I saw a young man who was no older than 25. He was dressed in a suit, and was walking to work. The wrinkles in his face were coated in sweat that was reflecting the hot California sun. He didn’t look sad though. He was smiling.

The light turned green, and I turned left towards Santa Monica. I had to get to work, and then I was going to go home and have dinner with my family. I missed them dearly, and I needed them to be with me more then ever because I didn’t want to see what would happen if I decided not to grow up.

Eric Bolton is a student at Berklee.  This story was written for his College Writing 2 topics course, Literature as Creative Writing