“I love you,” he said, “and everything will be okay someday. We’ll be okay.”
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
She sat on the porch of their run-down town home and watched the sun rise. The dull roar of the city awakening ruined the beauty of it all. This was never what she wanted: city life, city folk, people who go to work 9 to 5 and come home to their boring lives with someone who just seemed okay enough to marry. She wanted big blue skies and open fields for miles and miles.
Her wedding was as good as it could’ve been under the circumstances. Her husband was a boring monotone 27-going-on-50 accountant at a firm in the inner city. They met in college, and he was nice and cared just enough to ask for her hand in marriage. She had always wanted a big wedding, with a show-stopping ball gown that made everyone’s jaws drop. She had never really understood the point of it all: a big celebration of the ending of her life as she knew it. At least she would be secure. Security could equal happiness, maybe. As she walked down the aisle, she felt beautiful, but also felt nothing. He cried as she approached, and she wanted to slap him. “How dare you try to fool these people into believing you love me,” she wanted to scream. Instead, the words
She experienced the naïve feeling of true love, happiness and infatuation at a young age. She was 15 when they met, and he was 17-- an older boy with charm bursting out of his ears. Four months later, she was no longer a virgin. He told her it would be okay, that he loved her like no one else ever could. It happened fast and painfully, and then it was over. It was all over. Her life as she knew it, over.
“Honey, wake up, how long have you been out here?”
“I must have fallen asleep.”
“I’m going to go cook some lunch, you want anything?”
“No. No that’s ok. I think I’ll stay out here for a little while.”
He paused, looked into her face, right through her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he was regretting putting that ring on her finger. She though she should ask him about his day, but what good would that do them now? When she looked up again he was gone, the screen door rattling as if announcing his departure.
After the first year of what she considered her first true love, she found opiates in his truck.
“They’re just pills,” he had told her. “Not a big deal.”
Next, came the needles. He reassured her it was still all fine. 16 and in love, nothing could stop them. She once got a call from a friend of his saying that they found him on the side of the road and he couldn’t remember his own name. Of course, she always ran to his aid. Seeing someone in such a hopeless state of desperation ignited her motherly instinct, and from then on all she wanted to do was fix the broken. When she finally graduated with a masters in addiction recovery, she realized that not everything that was broken could be fixed.
She had an appointment with a patient at four, but she had already planned to cancel. She didn’t feel like she was in the right state of mind to hear the sad shocking confessions of a young drug addict. Outside, the air became cool, and she felt a sense of complacency overcome her.
She woke up sweating, shaking, and petrified. Somehow she was in her own bed again.
“Bad dream again?” her husband asked, half-awake.
That wasn’t entirely a lie, she convinced herself. To him it would be nothing. The dream was one of many horrific flashback dreams she often wakes up to. Needles being repeatedly stuck in her forearm, then waking up in the hospital all over again. She would sit up and see him at the end of her hospital bed, staring at her with a sick sad hopeless desperation, trying to make her understand. It was okay, he was just trying to unite them, drug addiction and all.
The phone rang. For a split second, she thought it could be him.
She hadn’t heard from him since rehab. She didn’t know where he was, who he was, if he ever even thought of her. His mother credited her with saving his life, but to her, she seemed much less important than that.
“Hello, this is Doctor Shepherd calling for—“
“Hello Doctor, good to hear from you.”
“Yes, I’m going to need you to come in as soon as possible to discuss your results. You might want to bring your husb---“
“No, that’s ok. I can make it within the hour.”
She looked off into the distance, as if hoping to see something in the clouds she had never seen before: An answer, a sign, an escape. Yet all she saw was her husband climbing the porch steps before her. He saw something in her face and quietly sat down next to her. She realized she loved that about him: his kind and understanding nature. He could always read her emotions on her face. They sat in silence, watching the sunset and listening to each other breathe.
“I have HIV,” she said.
The silence was heavy and cold as the sun set beneath the skyline.
He decided to go to rehab after her hospital visit. The guilt of causing her overdose was too much for him to handle along with the consistent pressure from loved ones to get help. They sat in the car at 3 AM in a parking lot she had never been in. He had called her for the last time to say goodbye before he left for treatment for six months. They held hands and cried for a long time. Neither had to say anything, they both understood what was unspoken.
“I love you,” he said, “and everything will be okay someday. We’ll be okay.”
“I love you,” he said, “and everything will be okay someday. We’ll be okay.”
She wanted so badly to believe him. The car door shut, and she listened to the rough crackle of his engine as he drove away.
I was terrified and mesmerized all at once. The flames were massive, bouncing and dancing as if they were alive. As much as I knew I needed to regain the feeling in my legs and get out of bed to get outside, all I could do was sit and cling to the faint smell of my perfume in my room being overtaken by the nauseating odor of burning redwood. I sat and stared out of my window in disbelief at the flames that had engulfed the wooden deck outside of my house. I kept pinching myself; I knew I had to be dreaming this. I quickly snapped back into reality whenever I felt the scorching heat on my face. Shit, this was no dream. MY HOUSE WAS ON FIRE!
I had at least a million thoughts racing through my brain all at once. Each one fighting its way to be processed: all of them failing. My thoughts were quick and fleeting and the only two words that I actually understood in that moment were “GET OUT.”
For as many times as I had attempted to envision this scene actually happening in my life, none of them came remotely close to what was going on in that moment. I took off sprinting into one of my roommates’ rooms. “Mackenzie, OUR DECK IS ON FIRE,” I shouted at her once I finally had her awake. I told her to hurry and go wake up our other roommate, Danielle, while I called 911. I dialed and put the phone up to my ear as I frantically grabbed random objects: jewelry, purse, phone, laptop, and pictures. I grabbed objects until I could hold on to them no longer. The entire conversation with the operator for 911 was a blur, I could not repeat it if I tried. I know that I was annoyed with her calmness and how at ease she was while something this horrific was taking place in my life.
Shit. The fire had started to make its way to my room, and it was taking no prisoners. I grabbed my pile of things that I had put together and ran into the hallway looking for Mackenzie. I began to choke and cough from the smoke. She was already out of the house. I darted into Danielle’s room and screamed when I saw that her ceiling had caved in on the bed. I remember thinking to myself that she must have already escaped, too. I ran and opened the cage for my pet pig to get out. Both of us took off out of the house together. As I looked back, the last image I saw was my hallway being immersed in the vicious flames of hell. I knew that the home I had grown to love and made so many memories in would soon be nothing but memories of what once was. It would be nothing more than a pile of ashes.
Once I got outside, I was blinded by the blur of flashing red and blue lights everywhere. I kept trying to count the number of fire trucks, but I lost count at five every time. My eyes burned from the smoke. I coughed so hard that I vomited. I was dressed in hesitation as I kept trying to convince myself that everything would be okay.
I saw Mackenzie across the street and ran up to her when I noticed that she was weeping. Before I could even try to ask her what was wrong, I scanned the scene and realized that I could not see Danielle. Where was she? Mackenzie woke her up, she must have. That was all she had to do. I mean, how hard could that be? Apparently harder than I had anticipated. That is, if the foreboding feeling I had in my stomach was hinting towards the truth of what happened.
I knew. I knew that I knew, and I still could not bring myself to actually say it out loud, nor could Mackenzie. I just sat there replaying the image of Danielle’s ceiling being caved in on her bed in my mind. I did not even try to go in and see if she was in there. I just assumed, and now my best friend was dead. Mackenzie held an embrace filled with sobs for what seemed like an eternity. The only way we could communicate was through the understanding nods underneath our tears.
A giant man made his way toward me. He introduced himself as the Lubbock Fire Marshal and told me he had some questions for me. I told him my side of what happened, but the entire time all I could focus on was how Danielle was gone. I noticed his gray head of hair. I figured could not be over forty-five. He must have seen a lot of bad things throughout his career; many homes lost, as well as lives.
As soon as he walked off, I noticed that a news crew had arrived and was setting up their camera. This had to be a fucking joke. I almost prayed that they would come up to me and ask me their petty little questions. I was completely dumbfounded that they were actually going to try and make a “story” out of this. They did not care that I had just lost my best friend of ten years, nor did they care that we had lost our home and all of our belongings inside of it. Danielle deserved better than some pathetic mention on the six-o-clock news. Hell, we all deserved better. I had to walk away. It was all too much.
As I was walking away, I continued to cough. I could not stop. I was unable to breathe and began gagging when a paramedic rushed up to help me. He told me to lie down on the gurney while he ran and got me water. I just sat there, sweating profusely, wailing, shaking my head wanting this all to be over.
A bead of sweat dripped down in my eye, and my clothes were soaked. I suddenly raised my head and surveyed my room, simply to notice everything was perfectly fine. I quickly sat up and walked over to my space heater. I turned it off, changed clothes, and went back to sleep.
Saip Bots were first created and introduced to the public in the year 2025, after a nuclear war between all of the major countries had left the global homosapien population at an all-time low. The Saip Bots were created to cover the working class jobs while the homosapiens filled in the higher level jobs that required human standard intelligence. The reasoning behind their creation was that if the homosapiens were only require to go to work during certain hours, it would give them more time to reproduce and help re-populate the earth.
In 2027, Saip Inc., George Caprock, the creator of Saip Bots, released the Saip Bot Home, a model designed specifically to work in the homes of the wealthier, homosapiens, keeping it clean and doing the chores. The less they had to worry about, the more babies could be made. They became nannies, cooks, maids and personal assistants for the wives who would stay at home all day with their pregnant bellies protruding from under their designer clothing.
Eventually, a newer, more affordable model was released for those homosapiens who didn’t have as much money as their wealthier counterparts, but still needed the assistance.
The Saip Bot EH (EH for extra human) was released in 2032, and they went straight into the work force. They had been upgraded to have A.H.I. – almost human intelligence - and would be perfect to fill in for the homosapiens who just didn’t have time to work anymore, because, even with a robot nanny who didn’t have to sleep, homosapien babies required a lot of work.
When the CEO of Saip Inc., Charles Grover, died in 2034, his very own personal Saip Bot EH took over the company for him. It had made perfect sense at the time, the bot had watched him work each and every day and knew how to make the best decisions for the company. He was even more human than the others of his make and year. He even had a name, something that had been unheard of until Grover gave it to him in his will. Maxwell.
Maxwell ran Sapien Inc. for about three years before he started making his own decisions on what to engineer next, instead of following the plans Grover had left for the expansion of the corporation. Maxwell decided that the next breed of robots needed to be even more human, with the ability to feel emotion and make intelligent decisions based on the situation, so that they could better serve and protect the homosapiens, like their creator had intended.
The Saip Bot HERO, a bigger, faster model designed to be used in warfare, was released in 2041 and that’s when it went downhill for the homosapiens. There were officially more robots on the planet than homosapiens. The 34th amendment to the United States Constitution allowed Saip Bots to purchase houses. The 35th allowed them to congregate in groups larger than 4, something that had previously been disallowed. If robots with A.H.I. conversed too much, they might get ideas. The 36th amendment gave them the right to vote in local and national elections. In 2044, the US saw the first robotic president.
Homosapiens were meant to be indoors after 7 p.m. Bad things could happen to them in the dark and it wasn’t safe. They were just too…human. They were mortal. If their arm was cut off by a runaway train, they could not just a new one to replace it. The bots were keeping them inside for their own safety.
It wasn’t long after that there was a limit put on the number of children a family could have. If a wife produced too many babies, she was putting herself and the babies in danger. Plus, the more small homosapiens running around, the more the Saip Bot EH’s had to look after them.
After a fight that would go down in history, where a Saip Bot HERO ended up killing one homosapien man and his pregnant homosapien wife, it was decided that it would be best to separate the two even more. There were different grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, parks and other public place made specifically for the homosapiens. It would be safer for them to keep them away from the bots as much as possible. They were just too fragile.
When there was a second Bird Flu epidemic, the homosapiens were all taken to the hospitals, just to keep them safe. It was better for them there, if one of them got sick, a Saip Bot RN could take care of them. The RN line had been developed a few months prior, and this would be the first time they were tested out in large scale. Everything the bots did, they did for the benefit of the homosapiens. It was just the way they were programmed. It was in their internal structure to protect them.
2052 came around and brought on bigger, better, stronger Saip Bot HEROs. There was no longer a need for homosapiens to participate in the armies. They would just get hurt. The bots could just repair themselves on the battlefield. The Saip Bo tRNs would be around to help, if needed, with extra parts and pieces.
Everything was taken care of by the Saip Bots. The only thing that the homosapiens had to worry about was making more baby homosapiens. But not too many. If a family went over the four child limit, they were forced to hand over the oldest child to the bots. The bots told the family that they would put them to work, show them how to make a living for their future families. It was what was best for the homosapien. Just like always.
2068 brought on the Saip Bot TRU, a new breed of bot that was extra special. If the homosapiens who had relinquished their eldest child looked closely at the new line of bots, they would see remnants of their loved ones in the bots. The color of their eyes, so human now. The way they walked. The things they said. The children had been given a new life, inside a bot body.
I cannot begin to describe how freeing it felt. To actually feel something real, something that ended with the same result that it advertised, was like inhaling fresh air deeper than I ever have before. The stress has gone, I am finally content.
My name is Jared, and I am a hard-working man. I own a beautiful house that my gorgeous wife, Colleen, helped me make into a home. We drive expensive cars, and Colleen’s is the Mustang she had wanted since she was a child. I can afford everything my wife and I want and need, thanks to the six figures my job as a criminal defense attorney for Texas graciously provides. I’d like to think that I have earned, what many may consider to be, “the perfect life.”
Marriage is not easy, but Colleen makes me want to jump through hoops just to make her happy like I knew she deserves. I wanted to give this woman the world—her perfect world, no matter what I had to sacrifice to do it. Today is the one year anniversary marking the day that Colleen, for reasons I could never rationalize, promised me “I do.”
I remember how Colleen’s beautiful eyes were fixated on this silver bracelet that was trimmed with little heart-shaped diamonds in the centerfold of last month’s Tiffany & Co. Magazine. I wish she looked at me the way she yearned at that picture—that object I could give her.
I decided to ditch the office early, after all it was our one year anniversary and Colleen would not be happy if she spent the evening alone. She looks so cute when she’s upset with me, though. I was never home before nine o’clock, so I could hardly imagine how happy she would be to see me walking in the front door five hours early and with a diamond bracelet-shaped box in hand—like a little kid on Christmas morning, I’d hoped.
Something was different. It made my heart suddenly race like it was trying to escape my chest. My finger started to feel suffocated by the ring on my hand. I stood in the doorway and listened as Colleen’s light voice echoed throughout our 4,500 square foot home. I felt like someone had kicked me square in the stomach, pushing all of the air right out of my lungs and leaving me completely empty. Please, no. The sound of my purse-lipped exhale was just loud enough to drown out Colleen’s voice; and until I ran short on breath, the sound was all I thought about. Pfffff.
“What if she doesn’t like the bracelet and wants to return it? Oh God, I hope the receipt is still in my middle console,” the sound of me whispering to no one but myself and my wife’s echoing voice was pathetic. If the receipt wasn’t there, I would just drive back to the mall and ask them if I had left it behind. I bet that sort of thing happened to men all the time. I’m sure I looked absolutely ridiculous standing in my own doorway talking to myself, but I had to know if I had that damn receipt or not in case the bracelet didn’t fit her wrists. That happened to Colleen a lot; she had to get all of her watches and charm bracelets resized because her wrists were just naturally small.
I didn’t go check my car, though. I had no idea where my car keys even were, and at that moment I did not care one bit. Pfffff. I thought maybe I should put the bracelet in the oven and let it sit there for a few hours until Colleen notices. Her precious, stupid oven that took her three months, that is ninety days, to pick out. I imagined a mixed look of shock and disgust twisted on her face after she opened the oven; but, the hurt I would make her feel, would be nowhere near parallel to that which I was experiencing. So, the idea seemed pointless. I remember the little squeal that Colleen made when she saw the La Cornue oven delivery truck outside of our house. I was positive that the oven was worth every penny I spent. For the next month, she cooked anything and everything she knew how and I was glad that I was able to buy her something she loved so much.
I did what I did because I deserved nothing better. Even a hard-working man, who earned everything he had to make his wife happy, did not always deserve “the perfect life.” It simply just did not fit me. “Earn” is not a synonym for “deserve” that can be swapped out for one another in regards to life—or more specifically, my life.
As I trudged up the twenty four stairs that lead to Colleen, my feet surprisingly felt lighter with every passing step. I hated her for hurting me, but pitied her because I did not make her feel full like she did me. Sixteen. The Tiffany’s bracelet covered in heart-shaped diamonds was sandwiched between my burning palm and the Glock 19 that my home office safe hid from Colleen. It felt nice—the hot and cold sensation in my hand. Nine. She hated guns, thought that “the only guys who had them were those who felt the need to prove to the other ones that they were men, too.” One. I knew I was a man, and Colleen was the only one who did not seem to realize it.
I felt like a stranger, standing in front of my bedroom door in the house that belonged to me but no longer felt like home. The sound of the gun’s safety switch turning off and the clicking of the doorknob are the last earthly sounds I heard.
“Happy anniversary, babe.” The gun’s blinding flash, the bloodstained bracelet in my thawing hand, and slow decompression in my chest—this life, I do deserve. Today, disappointment was replaced with contentment.
The Wildcats were ahead 33-32, when the Sun Devils got a drive going. With 8 seconds left in the game, the quarterback Harris Graham threw the ball into double coverage to the receiver Reginald Crabcake, who caught the pass inside the 10-yard line, toed the sideline and waltzed into the end zone with one second left. Touchdown! Arizona State had just upset Arizona in Tucson. They stormed the field tore down the field goal post and probably partied so hard that they were hung over for weeks. That was years ago now, and Arizona State could only dream of pulling off something nearly as impressive these days.
The night that they got into town, Murph entered the front door, with his hands full of bags and clothes as well as a drink. He stumbled as he walked inside and spilled his sweet tea that he had picked up in Sweetwater. Shit. This was a typical thing for Murphy; he was always a tad bit clumsy. His grandparents however could care less; they were never ones to judge, unlike his friends who would jump on any opportunity to laugh at him or the others around him. His grandparents never seemed to mind whether it was too late when the boys got into town, they were just happy to have them home, their successful contractor son, and their aspiring apprentice grandson. Likewise, the boys loved being home; Murphy hung on to his grandparents every word. While Franklin kept hinting at cool projects that the family could participate in as a whole, and doing his best to keep everybody moving. Growing up Murph never really appreciated the things that he could learn from them, but he was at a point in life where he was developing a new vision for what was important.
Murphy’s grandfather had a doctorate in nuclear physics. His grandmother had a masters in child development and they were both great listeners. His grandfather was the realist, the one that kept them grounded. His grandmother was the dreamer, the one who inspired them to go after anything and everything they could ever think up. Together they made the best team that anyone could ask for and were coming up on 40 years of marriage. They did not talk much, but when they did; they had something important to say. They had found everything that they wanted in life, and you could tell because they were always glowing. They had mastered the concept Murphy was beginning to grasp, doing what made them happy.
Murphy’s friends on the other hand were troubled. They were heading down the wrong path, but had been his boys since day one. After a visit to Tucson with his friend Rudolfo and a bus full of classmates, Murphy decided that this was the place for him, the campus was beautiful, and the women were too. Not to mention Arizona State University was cheap and was the next best education alternative to the University of Arizona. He would be moving six hours away from his friends, but more importantly his family.
Then there was Kathleen a different kind of friend who had a beautiful smile and a body that would stir up any young man. She, unlike the other girls Murphy encountered, had class. She knew about his past, as terrible as it may have been, but she saw the potential and was willing to take a chance. He was immature before and could not fathom the thought of a lasting relationship. However, with her he rekindled a fire that he had secretly yearned for since he last had a meaningful relationship. He had found something that meant more to him than partying and pursuing a lifestyle that would only leave him alone in the end; he had a significant other, someone he could build memories with.
Darrel was working at the bank and planning a move to a school a couple miles down the road that was reputable but nowhere near as respected as Arizona State. Rudolfo was a manager at the local dollar general, had since had a kid, and was also supporting the other kid that came with the package of his new girlfriend/baby’s mother. Murph was more than halfway through the first semester of his third year and nearly finished with his undergraduate degree. This was only the beginning of the changes they would undergo.
Murphy’s phone rings. Darrel was calling to see what Murphy was up to for Thanksgiving break.
He lets it go.
The next day Murphy shoots D a text. Darrel wants to hang out when he gets back. Murphy does not see any harm but knows that he has to change some things.
“Why haven’t you called me yet? You call D but you can’t call me?!” Murphy laughs it off, he thinks Rudolfo sounds like a girl.
“Na man, D called me and said he wanted to kick it, I will call you when we figure out what we are doing.”
“How long you going to be in town?” He asks.
“I don’t know man, but I will call you later.”
Darrel and Murph agree to meet downtown at the school union building to shoot some pool and hang out, Joe and Mark would meet them there.
Murph gives Rudolfo a call just as he said he would. “So what’s up man you got permission to go out of the house?”
Rudolfo fumbles his words and says something that sounded like a weak excuse. Murph hangs up.
Smack! The billiards collide and go in every direction. Murph broke first. Darrel followed his lead. Then Joe made his move followed by Mark. Mark was a hustler, so obviously he would not play good in any of the first games. Joe was super cool and never revealed his cards; he always had a trick up his sleeve. D was the intimidator and liked to use all his strength on every shot, which never played out well for him. Murph kept his cool, made shots when he needed to, and missed when the others were discouraged.
Mark and the rest of Murphy’s friends wanted to smoke and hang out after they left the pool hall.
Murph decides to call it a night and head home. He was not surprised when they called him thirty minutes later.
He let it go.
The next day his family began to arrive. They all pitch in to prepare the meal, even if the smallest of a contribution, they all helped somehow. They blessed the meal, and they ate. Murphy is thankful for his family, who inspire him to continue to move forward. He is thankful for his girlfriend, who has provided a sense of balance and support. He is thankful for the strength they give him to walk away from his childish friends.
He got a call that night from Kathleen. “Hey, how was your drive?” She asked eagerly.
“Oh, long. The same as always, but I am glad to be home.” She pauses. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
He responds quickly. “I sure am! I went to hang out with the guys last night and we shot some pool for a little bit. It was nice to catch up, we had a couple drinks and had a good time. They wanted to smoke but I went home early, didn’t fell like being out too late.”
She notices the maturity immediately. “I am proud of you. It is good to hear that you are realizing that there are limits.”
He changes the subject in an attempt to underplay his happiness. “So how is your vacation?” he asks.
“It is good, but I don’t have to go far. I can’t wait to see you when you get home, I see my family all the time.” She says.
He laughs and tells her, “Oh, don’t take that for granted. Friends are great and all, but they are not your family.”
They say their good byes and he lays down content with his newfound happiness.
They began to gather brush from the pile shortly after breakfast and started to stack it up in the fire pit. His uncle Franklin gave Murphy some utensils to trim the tree and told him to get to work. Murph took them happily and got to chopping. Soon enough they had the brush pile gone, and the tree was trimmed to perfection. The fire burned from ten in the morning to five when they left back for Tucson. While the fire burnt, they managed to toss the Frisbee around, play catch, and just enjoy the little things. In the background, the Grandfather and Grandmother admired from a distance the great family that they have built. Their happiness showed, and you could tell by their glowing smiles.
Murphy finally realizes what life is about. It was not hanging out all night with his friends. He has found happiness as he always does in his family who unconditionally loves and supports him. He knows he has a purpose and his purpose is to live life the way he wants, and not let the decisions of others affect his. He likes having a stable relationship with a good girl, as compared to many relationships with the crazy ones.
Arizona State may have lost, but Murphy enjoyed a greater victory.
Murphy often heard that college was a time for discovery. He has made his. He discovers what is important to him. Sometimes it just takes distancing yourself from everything to understand what it is that you really cherish. Murphy recalls what a family member once told him, “your close enough to know where you have been, and far enough to be away from it all.” He understands what that means now and is beginning to appreciate the significance of his college education away from home, it allowed him the chance to explore something different than everything he thought he knew.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Intro to fiction
December 2, 2013
It’s my first day of real school and I couldn't be more scared. We came into the school to enroll me after my mom had already waited over a month into the school year. But what’s six weeks when I'm already a year behind? I hated being home schooled. It just gave me a whole lot of time to think on my own, play video games when it was my turn, or maybe look at dirty stuff on the internet. I hardly ever studied when I was at home. We all had a curriculum, but only one of my brothers would really ever follow it. Still, he was slower than the average classmate when he went to school.
I told my mom that the main reason I wanted to go to school was because I wanted to play basketball. I’m pretty good at my age. I love basketball. I’m pretty fast too and I can touch my hand about a foot over the rim. That’s about how far up the marks are on my arm anyway. I have a lot of time at home to practice my jumping. Before bed every night I do calf raises, twenty on each step on the way up to bed. I thought this might give me a good kick as I jump, and it does. But I still don’t know how to dunk or anything like that. I’m able to get the ball up there but I can never seem to get it to go in the hoop. And I’m also a bad ball handler. My brothers laugh at me because I’m uncoordinated and I’m sure I look weird when I dribble. This always makes me feel bad, and my throat starts to hurt for some reason.
My mom just got finished speaking to who should be my freshman guidance counselor. The counselor said that I wouldn't be able to get into some of the classes that my mom wanted me to be in because they are already too far into semester. In response, after the counselor leaves to check the availability of other classes, my mom seems to be infuriated.
“This is bullshit. They get paid to have you here! They think that they can push us around just to show that they have a better system than ours. You ready to just walk out of here if we have to?” she asks me.
I shrug my shoulders.
“They’ll for sure let you do whatever the hell we want with a bluff. Dumb asses.”
The counselor comes back and explains my schedule, says that she can fit a choir class in with my schedule. My mom is calmed by this suggestion because she loves music. And I know this, so I quickly agree to the suggestion to please her. I tell my mom that I really just want to be in the basketball class. So they figure out a way that it will all fit in with the schedule and it is set and I will start my classes tomorrow.
On the way home, my mom keeps talking about the education system and how it’s not good enough with all of the taxes that we pay. But I’m not really listening. I’m just sitting there, nervous, thinking about the other kids at school, what they will be like, who will be my friend, which teachers will be impatient with me, what they look and act like. I didn't get to see any kids today. But I will tomorrow, without a doubt. And then I think about basketball, and will they laugh at me like my brothers do? Or maybe even more than my brothers do? I want to know these things. I’m just scared.
In the morning, I take the bus to school with my brother. As I move down the aisle of seating, all seats are taken by at least one person. My brother sits down, and I, immediately following him, quickly take a seat so I don’t look weird standing in the aisle. I briefly pear over and the person that I’m sitting next to is a girl. Holy shit, she’s hot. Shit, I hadn't even thought about how hot girls might be. I don’t talk to her. I look over a few times to see if she’ll look back but they were probably so fast that she didn't notice, so she didn't look back. Either that or she was ignoring me.
This is my worst nightmare. I've never been this close to one this attractive before, just seen them on T.V. I mean, the neighborhood that we live in isn't really a friendly neighborhood, so there’s not a lot of close friends to make. In fact, when we first moved here, there was a drive-by shooting every few months. So I haven’t really been able to be around this kind of social life. Just church kids once a week. Our mom had to write a letter to the school district to get permission for us to go to a different school.
I arrive to school and my throat starts hurting. The freshman go to another building that used to be a middle school but changed to the ninth grade center because there were so many now, about a thousand in my class alone. So the bus dropped the freshman off and took the others to the other campus, my brother and hot girl included. When I got off the bus I felt fine because I got away from that girl that was making me nervous, but now I’m nervous again. I walk into the cafeteria side of the building and there are kids everywhere. They are all talking to each other. Speaking to one another like it’s not the hardest thing in the world to do. Like they’re heart doesn't feel like it’s trying to jump out. Like a very sudden nauseating feeling in their stomach doesn't come whenever they sense they might need to tell someone something.
I got through all of my classes. I haven’t made any new friends yet. I didn't try to talk to anybody. I guess all of the “get to know your classmate” games were at the beginning of the semester. I end the day in basketball class. We played a few games, but I haven’t shown them what I could actually do. I dribbled down the court a couple times and lost the ball out of bounds without anyone near me. After scrimmaging, coach tells me that I need a lot of work. I know I do.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Coffins Over Coffee
14,000 Things to Be Happy About is a book on the back corner shelf of the shop down on Canby Street. I like to walk down there to thumb through a compilation of reasons not to be miserable. Sometimes the realization that I have to read a book to remind myself how to be happy actually makes me sad. And sometimes it makes me laugh uncontrollably, although I haven’t decided why.
Daniel is a one-upper. His hobbies include offering tidbits of crucial facts to the stories I share with our friends over dinner, pretending he heard the news first, being a fan of all the things I like before I knew they existed, and reminding me I’d be nowhere without him. I was never the kind of person who wanted to get married so it isn’t like fear drove me to the altar. I’m impulsive. I moved in with a boyfriend in college. I pierced my nose for six days, once. I majored in philosophy for no good reason that I’ve found. And then one day, I married Daniel.
My trips to the shop are often the result of Daniel’s actions. Last year, he didn’t come home one night, “late night at the office,” he offered in a tone that said he didn’t care if I believed him or not. After an attempt at a discussion about his night in hopes of discovering the truth, I left and found my way to the book for the first time. I blame Daniel for my affair because if I hadn’t been so unhappy, I wouldn’t find myself in that corner so often and I wouldn’t have met Ben. Ben works there most days, organizing the books and making the coffee and reading on his downtime.
I didn’t go to the bookstore looking for someone to cheat on my husband with. Sometimes when I try to think of the first time I saw Ben, I think I might just be making it up. I do things like that sometimes when I try so hard to imagine things I can’t remember that I just make them up. Ben never really asks questions because he doesn’t have to; he just knows things. Sometimes, it occurs to me that maybe he read my mind so I am careful with my thoughts around him, just in case.
I’ve started to spend a lot of time at the shop, unprovoked my Daniel’s schedule. I take lunch to Ben on his breaks from the café next door. I sit back in the back reading 14,000 Things and instead of being sad that it’s my sole source of happiness, I relate them to Ben in some ways, conversations we have or the way we carry on. All of the people are quiet in the shop, working on their laptops or reading a book. I can never decide if they stare at us with disapproval because we are laughing or because they know I’m married.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas, duh.”
“Coffins over Coffee.”
“That weird dream you had.”
Our Game was a pass time created in which one person says a word or phrase and the other tries to guess what it makes the other participant think of. Ben always guesses right.
Daniel went to a conference in Seattle this weekend. When we were first married, he’d bring me along with him for those trips. His coworkers didn’t bring their wives for reasons that seemed immoral and unthinkable to Daniel in his innocence, in the beginning of our marriage. I’m surprised it took Daniel six years to leave me at home. I’d be offended that he doesn’t invite me anymore but I don’t miss sitting in hotel rooms alone and when I get lonely here, I go visit Ben at the shop.
“Never had them.”
I couldn’t think of a phrase, I just go blank occasionally and Ben gets the book out to scroll for an idea. Instead, he stared at me.
“Is your husband any good at this game?” he asked.
I sat there for a moment, flashing through all of our prior conversations. I ran our history through my head as quickly as I could without giving myself away. I was certain that I’d never told Ben about Daniel. I’d never worn my ring to the shop because I was mad at him every single time. I’d never spoken a word about the source of my unhappiness. Or had I?
I was doing it again. I couldn’t remember our conversations and I couldn’t distinguish between what was said and what I’d made up. I didn’t want to lie anymore, but I didn’t want him to go away. I put my head in my hands and began sobbing. I don’t know how long I cried but I couldn’t make myself stop. When I heard a voice asking if I was okay, and realized it wasn’t Ben, I pried my hands from my face and looked up. Everyone in the shop was circled around me, each with a concerned expression. I looked around frantically searching the worried faces for Ben’s. He was gone.
I am screaming at this point. Screaming for Ben, asking where he went, shouting apologies to him through a group of people, half clueless and half very concerned. A woman in the back is calling for help on her cell phone; a couple of them are trying to lay me on the floor. Where is Ben?
Daniel was my emergency contact. The doctor told him I’d been spending the last three months reading and talking to myself in the corner of the bookstore on Canby. I spent six months taking medication and convincing my husband that I wasn’t crazy before I finally made my way back to the bookstore to prove it to myself.
14,000 Things to Be Happy About was gone.