"tell me more." And the way he says it, jokingly is infuriating.
"We live above a bar in an apartment with a door that doesn’t really lock. The screen was taken out of the door months ago and never replaced with glass. Our landlord is an ass and won’t fix anything. I can’t walk to my own door without stepping on glass. I can’t go to sleep at night without hearing gunshots or fighting."
"Sounds awful." But he doesn’t mean it. He’s talking to me in that annoying patronizing way. Like a teacher talking to a student making excuses for missing homework. He’s not my teacher any more. He shouldn’t be a bastard.
"I’m serious. I live in the ghetto. I’m afraid to go out alone at night."
"Well come home." And I know he’s saying it seriously now. He wants me to come home and grow up and start acting like an adult. Like the nice responsible woman I should be. He wants me to stop running away and stop ignoring people when I think I’m getting a little too uncomfortable with the situation.
"You know I’m not going too." I’m answering all his unasked questions. I wont come home. I wont grow up. I wont go back to him. It was never really him in the first place. And he knows that.
He says he misses me and I hate him just a little bit. I say I know and we hang up and he goes back to the class he should be teaching and I go back to sitting alone in my bed eating cold leftovers.
Perhaps I should explain that none of this is in anyway in order of occurrence. Sometimes life seems like it’s a consecutive series of events, one thing after the other after the other. And sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, today I woke up, took a (cold) shower, brushed my teeth and got dressed. That is a consecutive series of events. Last weekend I went home and spent time with a guy I’ve liked forever, but that feels like it could’ve been yesterday or even this morning. And I know I spent time with my family after seeing him, but that feels like it was weeks ago. And the drive from Somerville to Rochester, which happened just after I saw that guy again feels like it never happened at all. So yes, I know the actual order of events, and maybe my history is a little revisionist, but life doesn’t happen in an ordered series of events because one thing may leave a lasting impression on you while something else doesn’t.
And it’s also not in order because I queue everything.
Our water is fucking cold. Maybe the landlord turned our heater down because the rent is late. I don’t know, but shaving my legs is becoming a hassle and my hair feels like it just wont come clean. We don’t regulate our heat. The apartment is baking all the time. Just feels like a fucking sauna. And it’s so cold outside that the windows fog up at night. Everything smells like cigarettes. It would even if my roommate didn’t smoke. The walls may have been white at some point.
She talks about Texas or Tennessee. Anywhere is better than here.
I lie and tell him I can’t sleep because I’m not used to sharing a bed and maybe thats not all a lie but really I can’t sleep because I’ve waited almost two years to lay down next to him and it’s everything I really thought it would be and he’s not trying anything even though I know he wants too and he doesn’t understand how much more that makes me like him just as a person because what kind of boy doesn’t try to touch a pretty girl lying down next to him wearing his clothes to sleep in?
I told her from the start, “San Diego is my goal.” I wish I’d been able to tell her something straight out of Kerouac like “I’ve got a girl out there waiting for me.” Except it wouldn’t be a girl, it would be a boy. And no one wants a boy to wait for them. A girl would want a man to wait and no real man would sit back and waste time. But anyways, I didn’t know more than three people out there. A friend of my sister, a professional gambler and maybe a closet case. The older brother of a friend, a restauranteur whose standards are little to high for someone like me. And the older brother of another friend, a man I knew much better than the others, the almost 30 year old child. This last one, he was the one I would keep as my life line out there. The one I would depend on just a little bit in the beginning. until I was steady and ready and set up comfortably enough out there. Until I had my own friends and knew the right people to do the things I want to do.
I thought the club would be smaller and dirtier. In upstate, or maybe just this part of upstate, there’s not much to do except drink and look for tail. We were all about the drinking, but neither of us wanted to go home with any guys. But the club was big and fairly empty aside from a table near the stage and a few lonely boys posted up at the bar. The bartender was blonde and fit and knew my roommate from a few months ago. We talked about the girls and the manager and dancing. The stage was empty. We got our beers and headed over to the side to talk about the plans for the day and to play some pool. When we looked over there was a girl on stage in a short tight red dress. Nothing out of the ordinary. We played pool. Two attractive girls alone in a strip club always draws attention. We had acquired a small audience. A short, annoyingly persistent Indian man and a guy who may have worked there. A fat, sagging, black haired stripper sat alone at the bar. Had the Indian man stayed there, she would’ve flirtatiously laid her hand on his arm, laughed seductively at his too thick to understand accent, led him right past us to private back room. Instead she stared at us. The two young women unintentionally stealing money from her pocket. It got weird quick, so we left after our game. We went to a little diner not too far away and ate drunkenly fifty feet from a table of state troopers. We bought some food. She dropped me off at home and went to a boys house. I stumbled up the stairs deliriously tired and fell asleep fully clothed. I woke up with the taste of Genny light in my mouth and a strong desire to avoid that place.
I left as the c-shift workers trickled in. Carrying my half full xerox box. They held doors for me. Said goodnight. Smiled. I don’t know any of them. Our schedules never coincided before that night. It was late. Lawrence was cold. Above my head the trees met the starless sky. I looked up for one last time at the building I’d spent years in. Ninetofive. MondaythruFriday. I couldn’t help the heaviness that settled on me. The uncertainty of leaving. The loss of security that quitting had created.
I’m at that part of New York where everything smells like cow shit and the only radio stations that come in are country or sports radio and every single one of them are talking about the Pats loss last night so I drive listening to static.
Upstate there are towns called things like Selkirk, Mohawk and Ilion. You can look on one side of the highway and see run down farms and the other, run down mills. Some places are nice and developed but they’re so ugly and generic. It’s these run down places that are America. These are the places we need to fix and preserve. These unique, hand built, originally designed places that once employed whole towns of americans. That symbolized dreams and hopes and goals come to fruition. These are the first places we abandon. And the hard work, calloused hands, long hours… Isn’t that what made us all the way we are? The desire not to toil away like our parents The attitude of working smarter, not harder. Isn’t that why we’re all a little fucked up?
Maybe these run down places are what bred the greed in us. What made us want to move up in the world. Change our financial status. Maybe they’re what caused the laziness.
The apartment smells of coffee and cigarettes and when she stumbles out of her room in the morning asking why I didn’t wake her I don’t know how to respond other than I didn’t know the time. Which is a lie. I had been staring at the clock for nearly an hour watching it creep closer to the time when we’d both be late. She leaves fast and I stay behind for another hour doing absolutely nothing but thinking of cleaning or what to make for dinner and drinking stale cold coffee I made last night.
A new study suggests that those who spend money to do things are happier than those who spend their money on possessions.
In the study, investigators determined extraverts and people who are open to new experiences are more apt to spend more of their disposable income on experiences, such as concert tickets or a weekend away, rather than hitting the mall for material items.
Investigators, led by San Francisco State University Professor, Ryan Howell, discovered the habitual “experiential shoppers” reported greater life satisfaction.
To further investigate how purchasing decisions impact well-being, Howell and colleagues have launched a website where members of the public can take free surveys to find out what kind of shopper they are and how their spending choices affect them.
Data collected through the “Beyond the Purchase” website will be used by Howell and other social psychologists.
The site is designed to study the link between spending motivations and well-being, and how money management influences our financial and purchasing choices.
In the current study, Howell and colleagues surveyed nearly 10,000 participants, who completed online questionnaires about their shopping habits, personality traits, values and life satisfaction.
“We know that being an ‘experience shopper’ is linked to greater well-being,” said Howell, whose previous research on purchasing experiences challenged the adage that money can’t buy happiness.
“But we wanted to find out why some people gravitate toward buying experiences.”
Investigators determined an individual’s personality via a model that classifies how extraverted, neurotic, open, conscientious and agreeable a person is.
People who spent most of their disposable income on experiences scored highly on the “extravert” and “openness to new experience” scales.
“This personality profile makes sense since life experiences are inherently more social, and they also contain an element of risk,” Howell said. “If you try a new experience that you don’t like, you can’t return it to the store for a refund.”
Researchers believe it may be helpful if people would realize that life satisfaction and happiness can be influenced by their spending habits.
“Even for people who naturally find themselves drawn to material purchases, our results suggest that getting more of a balance between traditional purchases and those that provide you with an experience could lead to greater life satisfaction and well-being,” he said.
The research findings are published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
Cut to girl driving. Her whole life packed away in suitcases and boxes. A sad song plays. The sun rises behind her. The trees are lifeless. The hills, barren. And the road endless. All the frustrations of bad timing and useless arguments about “what-if’s” trailing her like a shadow.
Cut to boy laying awake in bed. The blinds are drawn but its snowing in Somerville. Maybe he feels the same frustration that waking up to the same person two mornings in a row about two years too late caused the girl. Maybe he doesn’t.
Cut to girl’s tripmeter. Only 60 miles into the 400 mile drive that will bring her new life and new adventures. The excitement isn’t able to keep its hold on her. She’s lost in what could have been. On the other side of I-90 a smoking charred van holds up traffic. Like a perfect metaphor for her life back home. Crash and burn.
Cut to flashback. The dull light of dawn has muted all the colors in the little apartment in Somerville. Skinny fingers skitter skate across bare chest until they’re caught up in a much bigger hand. And sometime before she gets up, before the unfortunate reality of the situation settles down on her, she realizes she’s happy. They exchange the kind of sentiments lovers exchange. “I don’t want you to leave.” and “I wish I could stay here with you all day.” But they’re not lovers. And she regrets it. Her chest aches and her lungs burn when she thinks of all the mistakes they made trying to protect someone else. Some one vulnerable and already so broken, who would never do the same for either of them.
Cut to girl. She’s only 90 miles, a few dollars in tolls and an hour and 45 miles away from him. She could turn around. Spend his day off with him. Ignore the unfairness of life for 24 more hours. She could double back and set off for her new life tomorrow. But she doesn’t. She drives on. She can’t live life based on possibilities. She has obligations in New York. She drives on, hoping three hundred miles and seven hours is enough distance for her to forget.
Cut to boy. The sun has long since set over cold Massachusetts. He’s put her out of his mind. With books or beer or friends. He doesn’t think about her.
Cut to girl. Awake and alone in the living room of her new apartment. Replaying the last 72 hours in her head.
It’s like a scene from a romance movie, but she doesn’t like romance movies much.
It’s freezing outside. He sits down with his hands full. Waits for me to stop writing and move the books I piled on his side of the little table. I don’t look up as I do it. Sliding paper and cardboard under my notebook. Making sure they are neat and lined up before pushing them a little carelessly to the side. The mug is placed in spot just vacated. Steaming, soothing and bitter. We’ve never spent more than thirty minutes together, but he knows how I take my coffee.
"No history books today?" He’s laughing a little. His face is tan and slightly hard. I think he spends a lot of time outside.
"No, I’m working on my budget." I feel my tastebuds burning.
"For your move?" We haven’t spent more than thirty minutes together and he already knows I’m leaving.
"Yeah. I need to figure it out. I’m kind of a numbers person."
"I thought you were a book person."
"Well, I guess I’m that too."
We sit quiet for only a minute. He asks me about what my plans are. Why I’m moving. Who I’m going to live with. Where I’m going to travel. All questions I’ve answered a hundred times before. My responses are rehearsed. He calls me out on it.
"What’s really going on here? That can’t be the only reason you’re leaving." We’ve never spent more than thirty minutes together and he already knows when I’m lying.
"What else would there be? It’s pretty common for people to move for work."
He leans back in his chair. Appraises me over the rims of his glasses and my stack of books.
“A girl like you would never move for love. And I don’t think there’s much for you to run from.” He trails off. Sits silently. Contemplates the reasons a girl like me would have to move away from the city she grew up in to upstate New York in the middle of winter.
If only he knew. If only he could feel the manic energy roiling my stomach. If he could feel the same desperate need to escape. If he could burn up like me he’d know that the only way to calm the flames is to get far away. Getting out of Boston is the only way to cool the fever.
"It’s nothing." I say. And drag my notebook back. The encounter is brief and remains silent.
We met in Central Square. I could see him across the street wearing the same oversized thrift store wool coat he bought last winter. His face was covered in curly unkempt brown hair. If I hadn’t known him, if he didn’t carry the air of hopeful college senior, he could’ve been someone down on their luck looking for a buck.
I hugged him. Remembered just how skinny he is. And just how tall. It tool us a minute to decide where we wanted to go. No where crowded. Somewhere close. The Field was packed when we entered. We slid through the crowd to the corner of the bar. I didn’t have cash. He bought me a Narragansett and himself a Guiness. We managed to find room on the bench. And then it all came tumbling out. Everything I’ve been up too. How much I missed him. How much I avoided Sean and the new people I was meeting.
He told me about his plans for after graduation. The girl he spent the night before with. The beer he was brewing. The jobs he didn’t have. And of course about the apartment we used to share. It looks different, he told me. They rearranged the furniture. Got some new stuff. Got rid of some of the old stuff.
And though we tried not too, Sean did come up. There was a part of me - the insatiably troublesome part, the part that wanted desperately to cause a scene - that wanted to revert to childhood dreams of covert operations and espionage. This was my chance to dig up dirt. To get any information on Sean I wanted. To know who he’s been sleeping with. And who he’s been partying with. And what kind of awful songs he was writing about me. I could hear anything I wanted. I except I didn’t want to hear any of it. I didn’t want to know any of it.
Later on, he jokingly invited me to sleep over. We both know Sean would kill him. We left the field. I got a chicken schwarma wrap from Falafel Palace and we headed to the Tavern in the Square. I bought him a Miller Light and got myself a PBR. We had surface conversations about beers and sports and what time the last T was.
We promised to keep in touch. We promised my move would only put physical distance between us. I told him I still thought of him as my little brother. And we separated with a hug.
Black. Everyone in the train car is wearing black. Faces turned down. Avoiding eye contact. Focusing on phones and ipods and ereaders. I feel antiquated. The heavy tome in my lap, a piece of momentous work and tireless effort, feels awkward and massive. And suddenly 1,000 pages seems like 1,000 years. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable standing crowded against at least four strangers. My book presses into the back of one, and I wince as he rolls his broad shoulders forward.
My feet hurt, and finally we get to Sullivan Square and enough people get off that I can take a seat. Even though it’s only until the next stop. The man Who had stood in front of me, now sits in front of me. His head phones are large, blue and maybe a few years too old. He smiles. I don’t smile back. I can feel the blush rising in my cheeks. He has green downturned eyes. A five o’clock shadow. Buzzed brown hair so dark it looks almost black. My eyes find their way back to the page. I resume ignoring the other passengers.
I can feel him watching me. It feels like a decade from Sullivan to Wellington. When we finally pull up, I snap the book shut. Tuck it under my arm. Wait at the door. He’s right behind me. The doors open and we spill out onto the platform. I don’t look back. I walk. Forward. Fast. Away from the orange and grey train. Away from the confusing stare. By the time I get to the stairs, I’m practically running.
He’s not following me, I know he’s not. He’s not a threat. I know that too. I make it out to the parking lot. The snow has frozen over. I have to slow my pace. I begin to question why I didn’t park closer. It’s cold. I lost my gloves. I don’t have a scarf. The black wool coat I have isn’t nearly warm enough and I never changed out of the skimpy skirt I wore to work.
I’m halfway across the lot when I hear it. First footsteps. And then a voice. I walk faster. It doesn’t take him long to catch up to me. And when he does, he touches me. Extends his arm, reaches out, catches a few strands of my hair, let his hand fall like dead weight onto my shoulder. And finally I realize I can’t escape this vexation. I turn. I slip. But only slightly. I catch myself. And he smiles again. A slightly uneven smile filled with white uneven teeth.
"I’m sorry. I normally don’t follow people." He looks down, not to the side, but at our feet. His clad in green and tan duck boots. My own covered in leaky, worn black leather. "I just couldn’t help but notice you."
I know I look like a fool. I’m blinking. He couldn’t help but notice me? The thought strikes me as odd. My chest constricts a little. I’m a little distressed. I’m not the girl people notice.
"You’re reading Shelby Foote."
I don’t know how to respond. So I don’t. He shifts his weight. Shoves his hands into his gloves. Looks away.
"I love the Civil War." He pauses and looks back at my face. Maybe into my eyes. "I’ve never met anyone else who’s read him. I just… I don’t know."
There is one of those silences when someone realizes they’ve made a mistake and someone else is struck mute by it. He heaves his shoulders again. He’s really a very pretty boy. My age. Maybe a year older. Tall and broad shouldered and square jawed and very american looking. He looks at me as if he’s begging me to make it easier. And maybe I take pity on him.
"I like the war of 1812. I just wanted to read this volume again. I felt like I missed a lot the first time."
His face cracks in relief and a grin spreads from ear to ear. He extends his gloved hand. “Jay.”
My own hand meets his. I can’t help but notice how tiny it is in his grasp. “Meri.”
We talk in the frozen wasteland of the parking lot at Wellington Station for an hour. We part ways smiling with promises of coffee or beers or books. I make it the rest of the way to my car before it sets it. Something is wrong here. While I wait for the car to heat up I think of all the reasons I can’t be friends with him. I drop the scrap of paper out my window as I drive up to the parking attendant. I can’t see it against the snow. The numbers written in black ink don’t stand out. They run instead. Right off the paper and into the snow.
An hour later, my cell phone vibrates. The number is familiar, but unrecognizable. The message. It solidifies something in me. The need for contact with someone other than family and friends who just don’t quite know me. Or the desire to speak to someone else who is just a little bit stuck in the past. Or maybe even that little irritating part of me that preens under the attention of attractive men.
It said: hope u got home ok. meet me at trident sat afternoon?