“So if I placed a cat in a box with a radioactive atom, what do you say will happen…” said Mr. Geiger in his almost sing-songy monotone way. The terrible thing about his voice is the fact that I would spend most of the time sleeping in his class with a strange melody in my head to the tune of a Second Newtonian Law problem.
“Mr. Anderson!” he shouted, officially breaking his morbidly monotonous melody for the first time in three weeks.
Hearing my name, I jumped awake, still not what was going on.
“What was that, Mr. G?” I asked while stretching and blowing some of my bangs out of my face. This was shaping up to be just another embarrassment on an already extensive list of failures to understand the “simple nature of Newtonian mechanics.”
“Mr. Anderson,” he began.
“Hold up, chief. How old do you think I am with that “mister” stuff anyway?” I interrupted.
He looked at me with eyes full of disdain and a face that had not had enough coffee yet and shook his head, while pinching the bridge of his nose.
“It’s just like you to change the subject if you don’t know about it.” he said obviously amused at his own wit.
My head sank back down into the ocean of my desk as if it were a small ship that had just been shot with a canon by Mr. Geiger’s superior galleon. After I laid there for a second, Mr. Geiger’s phone rang. He walked toward it with something that was probably a saunter before he started teaching. Now it looked like a scarecrow walking with a stick about three feet too far up his ass, causing him to have a perfectly straight spine, no dangling appendages, and look like a total prick.
“Mr. Geiger speaking,” he said in a completely boring bureaucratic sort of way. This guy made Al Gore look like Bill Clinton.
“Hey,” said Derrick, the guy in the seat behind me. “I’ve got some news for ya.” Derrick is a slime ball. His glasses and greasy black hair framed his face so he looked like a grody, douchebag Buddy Holly.
“What might that be? Your acne refuses to go away long enough for a girl to look at you for more than two seconds?” I asked without moving in my desk.
He looked at me like I just slapped him, but this didn‘t stop him. “You know that blonde that you’ve had that thing for since last year?”
I sighed. I knew who he was talking about. I could tell by the way he tried to pass her off as just another girl.
One thing you should know about me: I spend a lot of time thinking. Mainly about people, art, books, and probably not enough about physics, and there’s one person who I thought about since first semester sophomore year is Hillary Rogers. Her eyes reminded me of Monet’s Water Lilies, and her hair made me think of Charlize Theron, if she kept it cut and spiral-curled more often (which was a change from last year’s long, straight hair, which I think was a wonderful decision). She was the president of the school art club, a writer for the school paper, one of the heads of the Tennessee chapter of the official Warren Zevon fan club, and probably most disappointingly, Derrick’s partner in the school’s writing club. I’ve never actually told Derrick how much I envy him for that, but I had a feeling that he knew once I read my first poem in writing club, lovingly entitled “Derrick, Seriously, Screw Off.” Fortunately I’m still in the writing club by virtue that my prose “possessed a Bukowski-like rawness of emotion,” at least according to Mr. Helton, undoubtedly my favorite teacher ever. Unfortunately, this also meant that I had to listen to Derrick’s completely stolen metaphors about Hillary and hear all about how great they are together in physics.
“Yeah, I know who you’re talking about.”
“You do know how she’s an amazing artist, though, right?”
I turned and faced him.
“No, making me the first person ever to not notice that. Of course I have, Rick.”
“You know I hate being called that.” He shook his head impotently and his voice took on a more arrogant tone, which was more like him anyway, causing me to call arrogance Derrogance for the past three years. “Anyway, she’s talking about how she might be transferring into that Introduction to Design class. Aren‘t you in that?”
In case you’ve never seen any eighties high school romance movies, this is a huge deal. Monstrous. Massive. ENORMOUS. This would be the first class ever that I’ve had with her, and maybe, just maybe, I could talk to her and really get to know her, instead of what she just writes in editorials and stories and poems. She just struck me as so unique, artistic, and sweet. I genuinely thought that we would work well together. Well, here was my chance. Since I wasn’t really a believer in fate or destiny or anything like that, I felt that I should leap at it, instead of waiting around for something to happen. Besides, she probably just got tired of dealing with the newspaper, so she just decided to be a contributor instead of an editor on staff or something like that.
“Thanks for the update.” I said.
I laid my head back down on my desk. The sounds of the small science class filled my ears. The sound of a computer’s fan from the front of classroom emitted a quiet hum that could still be heard over the light chatter of the rest of the class. Across the room, two girls were talking about how guys have wronged them and how there are no good ones out there. I always get offended when I hear these conversations. I like to think that I’m a decent guy. Not the best, but I try to be a decent man in an indecent time, ya know? My mother probably wouldn’t agree, but my girlfriend and my friends might just.
I looked up from my desk and saw the illustration Mr. G was working on. It was a box with a cat and some kind of atom inside. When did he get off the phone?
“Let’s try this again, Mr. Anderson.” he said facing the class. “What do you think will happen if I put this puddy-tat in a box with a radioactive atom?”
“Does it matter what you think will happen? Couldn’t you just open the box and see for yourself? Nice cat, by the way. Just because it’s trapped with a radioactive atom doesn’t mean it has to look like it has cancer.” I said rather pleased with my response.
“Why would you want to do that? You could expose yourself to radiation and probably die. You see, class,” he returned to the board and began drawing a miniature hammer attached to some string and a flask with the chemical equation for hydrocyanic acid on it directly in the hammer’s path. “This atom could completely decay in the course of an hour, causing the hammer to crash into this flask of hydrocyanic acid, thus killing the cat, or it could do nothing. This is meant to show the incompleteness of the quantum mechanics that we’ve studied up to this point. That’s why Dr. Schrödinger developed this thought paradox.”
“So, does the cat live or die?” asked a rather petit-looking girl rather timidly.
“The cat doesn’t really matter at this point.” replied Mr. Geiger as he continued writing more Greek characters on the board. The girl kind of slumped and began writing down the equations.
As soon as I started to copy the formulas, the bell rang, dismissing us to fourth period, or Intro to Design for me. I quickly shoveled everything back into my messenger bag and began making for the door as Mr. G told us to study those equations and do the problems in our books.
I had no time to mess around. I had to get to fourth one to finish up my draft of a studio apartment to turn in before class and two to find out if Hillary was going to be in there.
I made my way to the design studio by weaving in between fellow students and teachers. I was hoping to avoid seeing Jamie, not because she wasn’t a sweet girl, but because she was just so boring and clingy. We had some similar tastes and interests, but she wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. That spot was taken by Hillary. My Polaris, if you will, guiding me to the design building, hopefully leading me in a way as to avoid seeing my girlfriend, who does not get a romantic nickname.
Unfortunately, she still managed to bump into me. I liked her more when she was being home-schooled.
“Hello, dearest!” she said reaching out for my hand, leading me away from Polaris.
“Hello.” I said anxiously, letting her hold my hand, but trying to shift us back toward the design building.
“How was physics?” she said, while her eyes shot needles into the side of my head making me look at her (figuratively, of course).
“So what are we going to do after school today?”
I began to answer with “I have physics to study.”
“Oh! Why don’t we go to the park? Or Pizza Hut? Or my place? You know what we can do there.” she said, subconsciously leaning on me on that last part. She snorted and began a laugh that would have made more sense if she were dressed in flannel. “I’m not kidding about that last part.” she said, breaking off from her laugh.
“No, I don’t think we should. I have a lot of homework tonight, plus I should study for the PSAT.” I said, with a bit of hysteria in my voice.
“Oh,” she pouted.
“Yeah…” I said breaking our hand hold and trying to walk faster than her. Somehow, she kept pace, even though my gait was longer than hers.”
“Well, what about this week?” she asked, a bit more desperately.”
“I really need to keep up my studies. College isn’t going to pay for itself!” I said, trying to sound whole-hearted, but anyone who really knew me would know I was lying.
“Well, maybe we’ll do something this weekend,” she said, jogging to keep up. I picked up my pace.
“We’ll see how it goes. Remember I have to go to Alice’s jewelry party this weekend. We’ll go to that, since it would be weird for either of us to show up alone,” I said.
“Alright! I can’t wait! I’ll text you later, hun!” she said, trying to kiss me, but my gait eventually put some distance between us.
By now, I was walking in the front entrance to the building from the front terrace. I kept my pace where it was, since I was pushing the time limit on getting to class on time. I walked straight through the lobby with abstract designs painted onto the walls, turned right into a corridor with famous cubist prints hanging from the walls, turned right again into the hallway with the sculpting area, and turned left at the end, bobbing and weaving like I was the needle crocheting my way to class.
I turned the corner so quickly that I quickly ran head-first into a head with a Regina Spektor face and hair very much like Charlize Theron, if she kept her hair spiral-curled and cut short more often. Her books tumbled to the floor, while I sat and stared impotently as she stooped down to pick them up almost out of reflex. After a few seconds, I joined her in the floor.
“So, uh, what brings you around here?” I asked, as I rescued a battered copy of Elements of Literature from the rather hopeless looking floor. I knew the answer, or so I was hoping.
“I got tired of putting up with my debate class, so I decided to draw instead.” she replied, piling pages of editorials and loose sheets with random doodles into her binder. I handed her the book I held in my hands for a bit to long, since I was staring into her eyes like Water Lilies. “I’ve always loved art, and I thought that since this would involve very little debate, I would enjoy it.”
“Well, there is very little debating going on in this class, unless you count ‘Your mom’ comebacks as formal debate.” I stood up and looked back down at her to help her back up. She was shifting the blonde curtain from over her eyes to the left and laughing a light laugh with a smile that warranted a bigger laugh.
We entered the modest studio together. Luckily, the desk beside mine had been empty all year, so I offered her the seat.
“Thank you.” she said warmly, setting her things down in the floor. I nodded towards her, thinking that was a cool way to say “You’re welcome,” and got out my studio apartment draft.
“What’s that?” she asked, indicating the suddenly bland-looking flat on my paper.
“It’s a studio apartment that I’ve been working on for the past week. I have to turn it in today.” I said, taping the sheet down to my desk by the corners and adjusting the T-square.
“So what are your plans for the weekend?” I asked as I went over the exterior walls with ink.
“You know Alice Boston, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said setting the pen aside. “I’m best friends with her and Gary.”
“Gary thinks I’m a weirdo.”
“My brother kind of digs his sister, so I just told him one day that they were going to get married. He just gave me this look and ran off. It was so awkward for him, I bet.”
I laughed, and for once, there wasn’t any kind of sick desperation behind it. It almost sounded jovial. Close, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
The bell rang, and the talking of the other students was reduced to a dull roar as Mr. Garret came into the studio.
“Alright, class, we have a busy day ahead of us. Everyone get out your projects, while I call roll,” the other Mr. G said with his raspy baritone. I really admired the effortless projection of confidence and enthusiasm his voice gave off, while all of the girls really liked it by virtue of its raspy baritone cadence.
“And I see that you’ve eloped with Miss Rogers to the back corner.”
Everyone turned to face the now silent rubicund duo now smiling awkwardly at each other and laugh.
“Everyone, this is Hillary Rogers. She’s also on the newspaper, am I correct?”
She waved her right hand at a shallow altitude in a very embarrassed way.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’m just messing around with you. We have fun in here,” he said, going back to the roll call after a beat. Hillary turned to face me and started laughing quietly again.
“It’s so weird how he just called us out like that!” she said somewhere between a whisper and normal speak.
“It is. He does things like that all the time, though. You’ll see.”
“I hope not. I really don’t like to be called out like that, nor do I like just being ‘That girl from the newspaper.’”
I felt like most people don’t know either of those things about her. I was really glad that she kind of let me in like that. Well, that wasn’t very much, unless that was her life story, in which case, I’m really glad to be let completely in like that.
“Yeah, I don’t blame you. It’s cool that you have a niche, though. I’m part of the majority that has no recognizable talent,” I said returning to my flat.
“Come on! You’re like Bukowski revisited to Mr. Helton!”
“That’s true. Hopefully I’ll end up drinking a bit less.”
She smiled and watched me fill in the exterior walls with a lighter shade of ink.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. G sauntering across the studio towards us. I didn’t even hear that he had finished calling roll.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you earlier,” he said upon getting within a reasonable talking distance.
“It’s fine,” Hillary responded.
“That’s always how I initiate the new kids. So, what kind of design are you interested in? I kind of let the kids do whatever they’re interested in most of the time. As you can see, Jim here is working on…“ he craned his neck over Hillary’s desk to get a better look at the apartment. “… A rather shabby-looking flat. It’s not too bad, Jim. I think that you should integrate the rooms a bit more clearly. Really economize the space. Do the most you can with as little space as possible.”
I sighed and began erasing the interior walls. Hillary laughed again.
“Well, I’ve always liked landscaping. Especially trees. I love trees.” she replied kindly to Mr. Garret, apparently taking a liking to him.
“Excellent! I’ve been trying to get the school to plant some in the design terrace for awhile now. I think they would do it, too, if they had the proper idea of how to do it. Would you like to be in charge of the draft for the landscaping committee‘s proposal?”
She gasped and excitedly nodded her head.
“Great! Now if you’ll just follow me, we’ll get you set up right outside, and we’ll talk trees.” She got up and followed him ecstatically. Before she got away, I managed to say that I would see her Saturday for the jewelry party, but I’m not sure if she heard me. I sighed again and swept the eraser crumbs off of my desk and began randomly experimenting with room order and dimensions.
“So, Jim,” I heard Caroline, the girl who sat in front of me say. I’ve known her since I was a kid, but now she was way more involved with the goings-on in school than I was, putting a weird social strain on the friendship. I still liked her fine enough, but I didn’t want to talk about what I thought she wanted to talk about with her or anyone else.
“Your Facebook has been saying that you’re dating a Jamie.”
“It’s amazing what we can do with technology now.”
“So, give me the details! What’s she like? I would have asked yesterday, but I was too sick to make it in.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. She’s…” I paused. Caroline gave me a weird look as I held that Z sound.
“Physical,” I finished.
“Well, that’s good! I hope that makes you happy!”
I didn’t respond, since I was pretty sure she didn’t get what I meant.
After a long period of not saying anyone and trying to avoid thinking about how unhappy I was, the bell rang, and I quickly scooped my things into my backpack and zoomed out the door, hoping to catch Hillary on the way to her car.
I walked to my car in the unseasonably warm weather, further worsening my day. By the time I rounded the corner to the parking lot after walking past the science and main buildings, my shirt was clinging to my back by a thin second skin of sweat. I jumped in my car and started it up to get the A/C going, hoping that Gary wouldn’t take so long with Victoria today, but something deep inside of me knew that that wasn’t going to happen. I turned up the CD player, hoping against hope that “Fans” by Kings of Leon would cheer me up a little.
Do I have to say it?
After the Followills played three more songs, Gary entered my line of sight, looking pleased as punch. His recently cut, but still slightly long charcoal-colored hair shined just like his sunglasses, as he made no rush to get to the ‘96 Explorer I called mine.
“Hey, man.” he said nonchalantly opening the back passenger door, throwing his things there.
“Hey.” I said. This was about as much conversation as I could expect to get out of him these days. He was really caught up with Victoria. They were one of those couples that made t-shirts with each other’s names on them with hearts around them. But hey, who am I to judge? At least he was happy more than ten percent of the time with his girlfriend. As I thought about how said that last sentence sounded, I decided that I didn’t want to speak to anyone for the rest of the day. I threw the SUV into reverse and made my way out of the parking lot.
“So how’s Jamie?” he asked after sending a text and setting his right foot up on my dashboard.
“Is that good or bad?” he asked, a bit of an edge on his voice.
“Bad.” No more words were spoken as I drove him home. The Followills filled the void, though.
I started paying attention again as I pulled up into his rocky driveway beside his cream-paneled house. Alice was walking around her Beige ‘03 Altima when Gary got out and thanked me for the lift. Alice approached my window. After thinking twice, I rolled down the window and simply stared until she spoke up.
“Uh, you all right, bro?” she asked in a sort of awkward concern.
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“You and Jamie still coming Saturday? I’m sure she’ll love it.”
“Yeah. Is it true that Hillary Rogers is coming?”
“Great. See ya then.”
I threw the vehicle in gear and backed out of the driveway, feeling a slight tinge of introverted guilt, but I was simply too introverted to care at that moment.
I wound through the streets, turning left at the red light, keeping straight, turning left onto another street, turning right at the end of said street, and turning left into my driveway. No lasting details. Just pure intuitive direction. I grabbed my stuff and climbed out of the white box of a vehicle. I climbed the brick front steps to my house and let myself in the front door. I walked to my room, threw my stuff in the floor, and belly-flopped onto my bed and just laid there, the disappointment of the day washing over me. My cell phone sounded that it had received a text, but I continued to lay there, knowing that who was sending me to text could not reach me where I was. I was off into thinking of Hillary again. Her Spektor face, her Theron hair, her Water Lily eyes, her aura that seemed to fill the usually dim studio with light, her compacted way of standing. All of these images and abstract notions somehow solidified into one individual. It was just unfair. If she only knew how much I wanted to know her! Not even in a romantic way. Just know her. Of course she was pretty! Of course she was smart! Of course she was funny! Of course she was appealing in every definition for appeal that I had in my brain! The point is that she would go on living her life and I would go on living mine, with no points of intersection in sight. That last thought saddened me, so I sat up and turned on the computer, hoping to quell these feelings by writing them out, thus getting me through one more day. It wasn’t even about the long term any more. “If I can just get through today..” was my mantra. Is a mantra supposed to be a fragment?
“Jim, do you want some lunch? It’s red beans and rice,” my mother said, sticking her head through the doorway. Her eyes resembled red beans and her mascara ran down her face to her cheeks. The normally Avian-style hair was messy and standing up on the sides, like it is when she is frustrated or distressed.
She didn’t answer, but simply walked off. I stood up and followed her into the living room and saw my father lying in the floor on his side unconscious.
“What the hell happened?” I was freaking out. I knelt beside him and put him on his back and started shaking him. It was the only thing I knew to do.
“Don’t do that!” She screamed. “He‘ll drown in his own spit, not before ruining this rug!” She stamped on the rug beneath us, reminding me of its existence. I put him back on his side and marched to the kitchen to get a dish towel.
“What happened?” I asked, digging through the litter of linens in the small drawer by the oven, where the lunch sat. She didn’t respond. She simply cried her desperate cry. It didn’t matter. As soon as I asked, I noticed a bottle of Ambien lying on the counter with a scattered trail of blue pills leading back into the orange container.
I rushed back into the living room, past my mother, and back into the floor with my father. I picked up his balding, oily head and spread out the fairly sized cloth, and put his head back down onto it. I just sat there. Impotent. There was nothing more I could do.
“You know how much he smokes! Imagine how that in his saliva is going to stain this rug. This is such a good rug! We can’t afford to replace it!” she went on. I decided not to point out how little sense this was making. This was typical of her. In fact, this was a typical home scenario for me. Even my father was playing his usual role. It’s like he was meant to be type-casted as the helpless manic who cared too much and my mother the anal, emotional hand basket. I couldn’t take it anymore. I just ran towards the front door, my mother screeching my name at my back. My footfalls didn’t break at the door; my hand caught the latch and I kept going. I ran to the end of my driveway and turned right. Kept going for a bit and made another right. Rinse and repeat. It was like a reverse-Nascar way of dealing with this problem.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle…”
At some point or another, I stopped running and came back inside. When I did, any idea of time I had was long gone. All of the lights in the house were out, except for mine. It cast alien looking shadows into the foyer and onto the stairs. I stopped in the doorway.
“Life’s but a walking shadow.. A poor player..” my father whispered. He sat on my bed. His head hung dejectedly. Ashamed.
“Why?” I said dejectedly. Ashamed.
“I’m through, son. My leg…” It was swelled twice the size of his right leg. He was diagnosed with neuropathy a year ago, and ever since he kept his “stump” wrapped up in various special socks and limped on his walking stick. “It hurts… It just hurts so much… And the voices… I can’t sleep… I can’t eat… I need out..”
“You’re such a melodramatic actor. Strutting and fretting about the world, making sure everyone feels sorry for you in the same way that you feel sorry for yourself. You’re not done. At least you shouldn’t be. If you had any kind of strength, you would realize this and face it, instead of spending all of your time and energy trying to escape it.”
I’d like to thank the Academy.
“Remember when you just abandoned me and Mom this summer, just because you couldn’t take whatever anymore? It doesn’t matter if you do or not. You probably doped and drank that memory out of your head. I do, and so does she. We are never going to recover from that. I’m never going to recover from that.”
I panted, while he sat on my bed, hanging his head.
“Look what you’ve made me become, just because you’re a coward. I’m an old, bitter soul at seventeen. Thank fucking you.”
I marched off furiously and flopped onto the couch in the living room. I just laid there. What else was I going to do?
I just thought. I thought about every ship that sailed today. Hillary wouldn’t be able to talk to me for a while, because of her Design work. I was still with someone that made me unhappy. My family was disintegrating even further. In fact, everything in my life was a shadow of what it had formerly been, not that it was a structure capable of casting a shadow of great pith and moment in the first place.
Deep inside of me, though, rang a sweet bell. Its melody rang that there was something there. Something that I was missing. Was I simply a cat sitting in a crammed box waiting to find out what would happen to me? Would I die? Would I live? Would anyone care either way? I knew better than to think of the upside. The upside would make me realize how bad things already were. I was merely a creature, and my fate lay in how much whatever was out there knew about quantum mechanics.
I then thought about how much the black of space knew about quantum mechanics.
The week went by slowly, making no lasting impressions. My life was a series of lefts and rights and sittings and walkings and drawings, with some afterthoughts of consciousness in between.
“Pencils down, everyone. We will come around to collect your tests.”
Oh. I guess I did take the PSAT after all. I can’t even remember how I felt that I did on it. Oh well. I’ll know in a few weeks. There was something else going on today… Something important… What was it..? Meeting with Jamie? No. Wait, yes, I am. We’re supposed to go somewhere… Mexican food? No… What is it?
While I was trying to remember what the hell I was doing that Saturday, a test proctor collected my test and kept marching down the line of desks. Whispers and varying degrees of mumbles rang in my ears. A thick hand slapped on my shoulder, startling me.
“Hey, man, whatcha doin’ after this?” It was Jacques. The bright incandescent lighting shot beams off of his shortish blonde hair. I could see a pre-peach fuzz coming in on his face, but his hair was too light to make the growth seem significant.
“I don’t know. I was just trying to think of something to do.” I answered distantly.
“Wanna get some Chinese?”
As soon as the proctors gave us the say-so, Jacques and I exited the cafeteria where the test was given, turned left into the front lobby, and exited the main building. All the way, Jacques talked about what he had done on World of Warcraft that week. I’m surprised that he could see where he was going, because of all of the steam his mouth was making in the cold mid-day. What is with the weather here? Typical Tennessee.
I simply walked to my car, hands in jacket pockets, contributing here and there to his ever-growing lore.
At the restaurant, Alice called and reminded me what was going on today.
“You still comin’ to the party?”
“The jewelry party.”
“Oh. I guess so.”
“You bringin’ Jamie?”
“I guess so. I also have Jacques with me.”
“Cool. Tom also called and said that he was coming. You’ll have to meet him at the BP and show him how to get here. It’s at my grandmother’s house, by the way.”
“Got it. See ya in a bit.”
I wiped my mouth with my napkin and exited the booth. Jacques picked up the check, and we left the shoddy oriental buffet to go to my girlfriend’s smoky, shoddy duplex.
“Hello, James!” Jamie said with a cigarette sandwiched between her big lips as Jacques and I came into the apartment that she inhabited alone, for the most part. The place smelled like it was embalmed in nicotine and seemed much larger and lifeless than it did the last time I remember being in it. Normally vibrant oak window seats and table-tops looked ebony and cast huge shadows on me. The off-white walls seemed to glow a pure white, contrasting sharply with the wood. This place was much older than I remembered. But that wasn’t true. It was my mind that had aged. I am a seventeen year-old, middle aged, with jaded remembrances of what once was grand in my life.
“I’ll be out in the car, while you… finish getting ready.” I said, already waking to the door.
She probably said something, but whatever it was fell on deaf ears. I opened and closed the front door in one fluid motion, and marched back to my vehicle.
Was this how I wanted to spend my adolescence? Tied down to someone that I’ve already lost feelings for? Avoiding thinking and feeling because I was afraid of what I would think and feel? I mean, my father’s attempted suicide and grim silence during this week was terrible. I should feel bad. But that’s not true, is it?
“Look, self,” I said aloud. “I know that you’re feeling pretty broken down, pretty jaded, pretty miserable. But you still have to keep going. There is something here! I know it! Trust me! Life is not a waiting room!”
I panted, letting the words soak into my skin. I said all of that without any clear reason and without any shred of belief in it. I was a poor player, strutting about the stage of my car, delivering lines full of sound and fury, dignity and grace, and it all signified nothing. My head fell onto the steering wheel, and there I lay, waiting for the next incomprehensible event to befall me.
I heard the door shut to the apartment. Jamie dug through her purse, searching for her keys. Jacques moved awkwardly away from her, with a look of something between shame and pity on his face. He got in on the rear passenger side and was silent with that look on his face, staring out the window. Jamie walked to the car, with her ungraceful gait. I used to like that about her, but now it simply made me shiver.
“Hey, sweetie.” she said, climbing into the car. I started the engine and she kissed my cheek. She pulled away to light another cigarette and asked me to roll down her window. I silently granted her request.
I drove, again, in silence. Not even contemplative silence. Empty, numb silence. Passing cars reminded me of free spirits, and free spirits made me more bitter. We pulled into the BP and waited for Tom. Jamie was talking about some Bukowski poem she read in one of my poetry books that I lent her.
“The Tragedy of The Leaves,” I believe.
Tom pulled up in his grandmother’s modest looking Town & Country, and instead of getting out and talking to him, I simply pulled out and he followed me.
He followed me at a greater distance than usual. This may be because he rear-ended someone a few weeks ago or because, through some strange emotional osmosis, he knew that I was not well, so as if I were a leper, he kept his distance, else become the same as me.
I rounded the corner onto Sycamore Street and pulled in front of the second house on the right, followed after a brief moment by Tom. In front of me was an old red Blaizer, with spots of paint chipped off all over. Alice’s Altima was parked in the front yard, and other than that, I recognized no other vehicle. We all exited the vehicles we were in and made for the front door. Tom walked beside Jacques, and Jamie walked beside me, and no one seemed particularly pleased with this arrangement.
Alice answered the door. She was dressed nicely, with an exotic-looking blouse that went well with her hazel eyes, her usual pair of jeans, and sandals, even though it was chilly. She looked genuinely pleased to see everyone. She greeted us all individually, but her voice became especially excited when she welcomed Jamie. She finally motioned us all into the modest living room.
“It’s so good to see you all!” shouted Wanda, Alice and Gary’s mother, as she approached us from across the room.
“You must be Jamie.” she said once she got close enough to us to tell that there was only one female in our group. Her eyesight has been really going over the past few years. “Jim here just raves about you!” she said with a certain motherly affection for me. This made me smile.
“You guys can go in the kitchen and fix a plate. We have finger foods, dips, and drinks all in there. Then the guys can go on out back. Jamie can come back in here with us.” Alice said, as if it were truly obvious that the guys in this group really shouldn’t be around anything more expensive than fireworks.
“Aww, come on! I’ve always wanted this..” Jacques began, looking for the nearest expensive-looking accessory. “These bottle-nosed dolphin earrings!”
“Get out of here!”
My friends and I marched into the kitchen, talking about how bogus all of this was. We fixed plates with cheese dip, tortilla chips, fruit, and little weenies, and marched outside. We sat down at the rusted, rustic-looking table.
“Are you alright, man?” Tom said, looking at me.
“Yeah. I’m just.. I don’t know. Still not happy.”
“Why not?” Jacques asked without missing a beat. Tom was munching his chips.
Jacques sighed and began eating what was on his plate.
“Why don’t you break it off with her?” Tom jumped in.
“It has to be better than being alone. Dad tried to kill himself Tuesday, and I’m just kind of hopeless. I feel like even if I’m unhappy with her, it’s better than I’ll feel if I’m alone.”
The eating went on in silence. I said too much.
“So, have you guys heard about The Human Centipede?” I asked, breaking the deafening silence ringing in my ears.
“No. That title sounds pretty disgusting, though.” Jacques replied.
“Oh, it is.” I said, sneaking in a dark voice. I went on describing it for them, though their faces said they didn’t want to hear anymore. Finally, we all started laughing, and conversation continued as usual.
Gary came out and sat around our rather morbid roundtable. He jumped right in the conversation.
“Oh, Jim! Did you tell them about Poultrygeist?”
“Aw, man! You guys have got to hear this!”
Gary explained how a chicken was going to murder the population of Tromaville, and I was thinking about Hillary. I thought she was going to be here. I quietly sighed to myself. Dad wasn’t talking to me or anyone else, so I wasn’t expecting closure there, but now I just really wanted to see Hillary and explain what was going on. Not that she had any right to know or anything. I just wanted her to be closer to me, as if me bearing my soul would fulfill that wish. Maybe it would. It’s not like I would know now.
“Jim, you alright?” Gary asked. I didn’t even notice that the laughing had stopped. Before I could answer, Jacques started telling him all about what was going on. All Gary could do was look at me with a strange look of pity. I wasn’t sure if it was, but that’s what I got through that same emotional osmosis that let everyone know that I wasn’t well.
The door opened. Everyone else looked, while I just sat there in an impotent sort of pouting. I wished that I had just gone home. I should never have come here. I shouldn’t even be around anyone right now.
“Can I sit out here with you guys? I really don’t like it in there.”
I whirled around in my seat to see a Theron-haired girl with a white button-up with green plaid, jeans, and cloth shoes, probably Toms. She looked like she would like to give a pair of shoes to an African child.
“Sure,” Jacques said, pulling up another rusted sea foam chair.
“Thanks,” she said, graciously taking the seat. “So, what were you guys talking about?”
“Well, Jim there is having a pity party,” Jacques explained. “We’re just talking, while he’s feeling sorry for himself.”
“Oh, what’s wrong, Design buddy?” she asked, seeming to be genuinely concerned. A slight breeze blew as I faced her, blowing a faint mist of Clinique Happy into my face.
“Nothing. I’ve been worse,” I now truthfully answered. I felt an echo of a grin cross my face. “Do you like horror movies?”
“No, not at all!” she chimed in, without missing a beat.
“Me neither, man! They’re all just so dumb, aren’t they?” Jacques asked, glad to find someone else that shared his views.
She nodded her head.
“They are,” I began, “but it’s not like they’re the worst thing to watch, with the exception of The Human Centipede, of course.”
“What’s that?” she asked, not knowing what she was getting herself into.
With great, almost staged vigor, we all explained to her the horror of one German surgeon’s fantasy. She looked absolutely disgusted, but she laughed along with us, as we moved from one shock film to the next. We covered all everything from Teeth to Poultrygeist again (just because she couldn’t resist the ridiculous title).
And I laughed then than I had in the past few weeks. Months, maybe.
“I’m so glad I came here after all,” she said, after Gary and I finished reenacting the ending to Cabin Fever. “I almost didn’t come, because I don’t wear jewelry, as you can tell,” she waved her hands in a mild form of jazz hands. “nor do I like to be around crowds, but I really am glad I’m out here with you guys.”
“I’m really glad you are, too,” I said without thinking. She looked at me, and we shared a smile. And that smile was the best thing I had felt since…. Well, it had been a while, I’ll just say.
So, what made her decide to come? She didn’t wear jewelry, and didn’t like being around crowds, so what purpose was there in her coming? Whether it’s because of how much I like her or that there genuinely is such a thing (and it’s probably both, to some degree) I sincerely believe that fate, destiny, or something like that acted upon each person sitting around that table. I guess whatever’s out there knows far more about quantum mechanics than I’ll ever comprehend.
The main thing is that everything felt so natural. It was as Oscar Wilde would describe a perfect conversation: covering everything, fixating on nothing. She told us about how she had toured several universities, because it was about time for her to be getting into a school, and we told her about our interests, and my world was perfectly in orbit, and if it wasn’t, it was far better than actually having it in orbit. I caught myself wanting to say that I felt infinite.
The next thing that happened was Jamie came out to join us, and conversation continued, but at nowhere near the almost surrealistic depth and breadth as before she came out. It’s not even worth talking about anymore.
We all parted ways after another hour like this. Tom offered to take Jacques home, and Jamie, Hillary, and I all walked to our respective rides.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you Monday, Jim,” Hillary said, smiling a little.
“I hope so,” I responded. “Are you still working on that landscaping draft?”
“Yeah. It’s almost done, though. I’m trying to wrap it up, since Mr. Garret wants dogwoods, and I think he’s dumb for wanting dogwoods.”
We both laughed. We said our goodbyes, and Hillary climbed into her car. Jamie and I walked to the Explorer in silence. This is also how we drove home.
Author’s note: Jamie broke up with me. Through text message.
Secondary author’s note: I felt glad. For both of us. Now we both really have the chance to be happy.
“Test tomorrow over all that we have covered thus far about quantum theory!” Mr. G said excitedly over the bell. An S sounding disappointment swept over the class. I just shoveled all of my stuff into my bag and made a beeline for Design.
As I was walking, I got to thinking about stuff. Things happen. More importantly, things happen that we may and probably will never understand. Most importantly, it’s these things that truly define us. We cannot be slaves to the uncertainty that shrouds all of our lives. Sometimes we just have to jump through the mists and hope that we’re not running head-first into something that will hurt us. But when we do, and we will, we just have to press on, because apparently something is out there that will make everything work out how it’s supposed to. You’ll get what need, and hopefully you’ll never want anything more.
I suddenly realized that I was sitting in Design class. I then realized that Clinique Happy was wafting into my face.
“Hey, Jim! What are you doing this weekend?”
“Nothing. How about yourself?”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
“Believe it or not, I want to go see that new Secretariat movie, and I was wondering if you would like to accompany me.”
“Well, yeah! I don’t think I have anything going on. I’ll let you know, though. I’ve misplaced your number, since I got this new phone. What is it, again?”
She gave me the number, I told her that I would let her know what was going on tonight, and she said “Great.”
See what I mean?
As she crossed the room to go finish her Design project, I smiled to myself. For once, one of my optimistic philosophies seemed to actually be true. I remember thinking that if this worked out, I’d make it through several days, weeks, and hopefully much longer measures of time.
Much like myself, my mantra was on its way to being complete.