Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 31

     For the next couple of months you throw yourself into your work. You have always presented an eager face, but now you are backing it up with action. You stay late when needed and always ask what more you can do. You work at home. You work on the weekends. You want your bosses to see the effort you are making.
     It is not that you are any more enamored of your job than you have ever been. What has changed is the recognition of your fate. If this is your future, if this is your real job, and your career then you are determined to succeed at it. Your father was a tireless worker and although you had spent the better part of your life in the pursuit of leisure you could feel those worker bee genes ignite within you. All his idiotic books were beginning to make sense to you. You were going to bring greatness with you to this job.
     A bit of a buzz began to surround you. Executives that you did not even know would come by your desk just to say hello and get a look at you. Your boss started inviting you out to lunch, not all the time, but every once in a while. You enjoyed the small talk about office politics and whatever juicy gossip was floating around. You paid attention when he would talk about your future with FTP.
     “I’ve got to say, Mark, everyone is really impressed with the effort you are making. Myself included. Even my boss’s boss mentioned you yesterday.”
     “Wow! I must be doing something right.”
     “When V.P.’s start talking about you then yes you are.”
     “It looks like I better keep it up. I don’t want anyone saying, ‘Whatever happened to that guy?’”
     “I just can’t get over the progress you’ve made.”
     “My father worked at Traft for thirty years. He started at the bottom and worked his way into the boardroom. I want to do the same thing here. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
     “That is exactly the type of attitude we look for. That’s the same way I feel. I started out doing what you’re doing. Five years later I got promoted. Hopefully, I’ll move up in couple of years and so on and so on. At the rate you’re going you’ll be the guy who replaces me when that happens.”
     “You better put in a good word for me.”
     “You know I will!”
     The idea of sitting at the same desk doing the same thing for five years takes some of the wind out of your sails. Even two years seems like a long time. For an hour afterwards you sit at your desk completely discouraged, not doing anything but sitting silently.
     You think about long distance running. At track meets they use a rabbit. He is a runner who starts out as fast as he can. He sets the pace and the legitimate contenders try to keep up with him. He’s there to make sure they don’t just save all their energy for the end. After a couple of laps the rabbit jumps off the track and watches the race conclude like any other bystander. You hope you are not a rabbit.
     Eventually, you shake it off and get back to work. The reality is if this is what you have to endure then this is what you are going to do. There is too much at stake to allow yourself to be swayed by a little frustration. You steel your resolve.
     Occasionally when you get home your father is in your apartment waiting for you. He is always in the living room watching television or asleep on the couch if you are very late. You cover him with a blanket or wake him up to say goodnight. In the morning the two of you talk over breakfast.
     Heather is always somewhere else. She is in the kitchen or already in bed. Sometimes she is out with friends. She was close to your mother. She does not have the same relationship with your father. It worries you, but it is a subject you do not know how to approach so you leave it alone.
     When you unexpectedly receive a thousand dollar bonus at work you celebrate by taking the two of them out to dinner. Over wine you toast your success and your father tells stories that may or may not be funny although he is sure they are. You laugh anyways and are having a great time. Heather says she has a headache and leaves early. The party continues long into the night and you walk home together. You are two of a kind, your father and you, but you feel that you are missing a third.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 30

     The following weekend you and Heather went to visit her parents as you did at least once a month. You had finally been allowed to sleep in the same room together, but Heather refused to have sex. She said that the idea of doing so close to where her parents slept was icky. You countered that because it was so dirty that you definitely should. It was an argument you did not win.
     The routine was predictable. You would drive up on Saturday, spend the night, and drive back Sunday afternoon. Usually, Heather would spend all her time with her mother and you were left to yourself. Recently though, the Colonel had begun to warm up to you. There was an odd look in his eyes. You were not sure if he really liked you or if there was something else going on.
     He took you horseback riding that Sunday morning, which was a feat in itself because you are terrified of any animal that has the ability to stomp you to death should it choose to do so. The two of you meandered through trails choked with new spring growth to a lake where you stopped for a rest. The Colonel would often take you aside to share his personal philosophies on politics or the working class, but this time it was much more personal.
     “I heard about your family, Mark. I am very sorry.”
     “My mother’s death was hard on everybody. You were at the funeral.”
     “I know. I can’t believe it’s been what, five months?”
     “I mean your financial situation. Heather says you’re poor. You’re father blew all his money and is living in a shabby little apartment. That has to be quite a shock.”
     Everything he just said angered you. You struggle to find a diplomatic way to correct his opinions. “We are not poor. My father owns a nice apartment. It is in a neighborhood that needs some fixing up, but it is not some pit. He spent his life savings trying to save my mother’s life.”
     “You took that all wrong. Or, I said it all wrong. Let me try again. Son, it is never easy when tragedy strikes only to be followed by more bad news. You spend your whole life within a certain circle and it never occurs to you that you are going to be pushed out of it and have to fight your way back in.”
     The fact that he called you son is lost on you because you are struggling to understand his metaphor. “Is this a sumo thing?”
     “It can be. It’s also a life thing. Right now you have a big fat Japanese guy pushing you around. You gotta get back in the ring. You were born a child of privilege. Like Heather, you didn’t go to public school. There are worries in life you haven’t had to face until now. I hope you are up to it.”
     “I’m doing the best I can.” You have warmed to the fact that he is trying to be sincere even if he is really bad at it.
     “This job you have with FTP, is it a good one?”
     “I’m making enough money. The longer I’m there the better I’ll do.”
     “I’ve checked it out. It’s a good company. Do you like it? Do you think you have what it takes to stick it out until you make the good money?”
     “Right now I’m just analyzing bullshit. It’s boring and they have a dozen people doing the exact same thing, looking at the exact same numbers, so it seems kind of pointless. But, I’m not going to quit. I need this job. I have to buy a house.”
     He makes an odd grimace and says, “Don’t worry about the house right now. Save your money and invest wisely. In a year or so you’ll have a better idea about what you can do with it.”
     On the way back you start to think that you like the Colonel. Even with his gruff exterior he means well. After all, he did call you son. It does not occur to you that this is the last time the two of you will speak.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 29

     Your father lives in a part of the city that is filled with Caribbean immigrants. The area is known as little Haiti and it is filled with the smell of strange foods and strange dialects. His place is small, but well maintained. It is a far cry from the lavish house you grew up in.
     You were polite and supportive on your first visit, but you could not help wondering how things had come to this point. Growing up, if someone had asked you if you were middle or upper class you would not hesitate to say your family had plenty of money. Everything was top notch. You went to summer camp in the summer, ski vacations in the winter. There were no ostentatious displays of wealth, but there was never any worry about it either.
     It occurs to you that maybe all of it was an illusion. Your parents did not come from money. Your father had a good job that provided a comfortable life, but all of you were living at the edge of what that could afford. With your mother’s illness and your father losing his job it unraveled quickly.
     You wanted to ask what went wrong, but what your father needed was a friend and a son. If there was any shame he was feeling you were not going to be the one to expose it. Over time, he let pieces to the story leak out. You never prodded him for details.
     He claims he is happy, but behind the smile you think you can see a beaten man. He is not looking for work. You can tell that he does not care. He had you late in life and now pushing sixty he seems resigned to the idea that his life was winding down. He assures you that he is well enough to carry on. You suspect that with your mother gone he has given up.
     Heather joined you that first time. She would not return. The neighborhood made her nervous and she had trouble disguising her disgust for the graffiti and people loitering on every stoop and every street corner. It is a world she wants no part of. It is one that she has taken special care to avoid.
     A strange silence overcomes her. It is as if what she thought she knew and what was the truth wound up being very different things. You feel the same, but in very different ways.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 28

     Spring break reminded you that you weren’t in college anymore. You could hear an eruption of parties on your block followed by the sound of cars being packed and people leaving for parts unknown. For you, it was just a week in March.
     You walked Milo down near vacant streets littered with empty recycling bins. A week ago they were bustling with activity and a week from now they will return to normal. You had never stayed in town for spring break and it was eerie like everyone had been whisked away in the night and you were left behind.
     For months you have been congratulating yourself on how much you’ve grown up, but every now and then you wish you hadn’t. For years you led a comfortable, routine existence. Now everything had changed. You missed your mother, you missed college, and you missed the financial security you one knew. You also missed your friends.
     As happy as you are to have your father around, other than Heather you don’t have anyone to talk to except the people at work and you’ve been too busy and too new to make friends. Heather has some friends that you go out with, but they are couples so it’s more of a package deal than just having some buds to hang out with.
     Eric was right. Everyone went away. It was subtle. There were no grand parties bidding bon voyage. You’d get a call or a text from a friend saying they’d found a job or were going home or were looking for a job and then they’d be gone. You have a couple of acquaintances that still live in town, but they moved away from the university or are in the suburbs and are leading their own lives. There is no one left to relive the past.
     All lives are lived alone. Even when you’re surrounded by family and friends, you are a solitary creature. Even if you are led, you walk your own path. The voice in your head is the only voice you will ever really listen to. Most people are too distracted to realize this. Only when it is quiet can they hear.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 27

     It was on a Tuesday in the spring that you came home to find your father sitting at your kitchen table. He was playing with the dog while Heather cooked dinner. Her back was turned, but she took a moment to give you a frantic glance.
     “Dad, what are you doing here?”
     “I was in the neighborhood.”
     “So, you just happened to be in the city?”
     “I live in the city.”
     This made you drop all your things and pull up a chair facing him. “What do you mean?”
     “I sold the house. I have an apartment on Wilson.”
     “That’s a tough area.”
     “It’s not so bad. I can afford it. Now I’m a lot closer to you. It only took two busses to get here.”
     “What about your car?”
     “It’s fine. Who drives in this town?”
     “I do. I could have given you a lift. Why didn’t you tell me you were moving?”
     “You have enough to do. Besides, I wanted to surprise you. So, I’ve been sitting here talking to your bride to be waiting for you to come home.”
     “That’s great!” You are thrilled. Since your mother died you have wanted to reconnect with your father. You talk on the phone all the time, but it’s not the same as seeing someone face to face. “Heather, it looks like my dad is staying for dinner.”
     “I know!” She chimes in, but there is stress in her voice. “I need to do some work in the bedroom while this cooks.”
     After she leaves your father leans in and asks in a whisper, “Is she alright?”
     “She hates the unexpected.”
     “You two aren’t fighting are you?”
     “No.” You reassure him. “Not really. I mean, no.”
     “Good. I’ve been here an hour or so and barely gotten more than a couple words out of her at a time.”
     “She can be like that sometimes. It’s not personal.”
     “Hey, she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen. You have no idea how long it took your mother to figure out meatloaf. Don’t mess this up.”
     The meal goes well and Heather begins to warm up to her guest. The three of you drink wine and the small talk flourishes. It’s when your father asks a serious question that things grind to a halt.
     “I still have not gotten my wedding invitation. When exactly are you two tying the knot?”
     Heather looks down to indicate it is a subject she doesn’t want to discuss, but it is something that has been bothering you so you wade in.
     “I don’t know.” You direct your words at Heather. “Honey, when are we getting married? Or, are we going to be like one of those Hollywood couples who don’t need a piece of paper to prove our love?” You are trying to be funny and you spoke in a satirical way, but the answer is important to you.
     She keeps looking at the table before her and says, “We need a house.”
     You hadn’t heard this request before and you want some clarification, but your father interjects.
     “A house! Of course, you need a house if you’re going to have children. Get married, move into your new house as newlyweds, and have children. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.” He is happy with himself like he just solved a riddle.
     Heather gets up from the table and says, “I need to clean up in here. Do you want to take care of Milo?”
     “That’s a great idea!” Your father says as he slaps his hand on the table. You realize that he is a little bit tipsy. You had never seen him drunk before. You had often wondered if he was a happy drunk or a surly drunk. You are glad he’s the former and not the later. “Let’s take my grandson for a walk!”
     Outside, the conversation returns to Heather.
     “She got some cold feet, my son.”
     “I suppose. She was fine with getting engaged and she already has the wedding completely planned out. She just won’t agree to a date.”
     “Whatever you do, don’t force the issue. You can’t make up a woman’s mind for her. If you could you wouldn’t love her. Trust me. She’ll come around when it’s right for her.”
     It is sage advice that you take to heart.
     That night, as your father sleeps it off on the couch and you lie in bed next to Heather, you decide to smooth things over. “I’m sorry if I put you on the spot. I’m ready when you’re ready and we don’t have to rush into anything.”
     “And, I’m sorry about my dad barging in here without any warning. It surprised me too. It’s so nice to see him.”
     “It was.”
     “I think he’s going to be coming around all the time now.”
     “I know.”
     “Are you alright with that?”
     “I will be. Go to sleep.”
     As you drift off you are enchanted with a feeling of closeness to your father that you never had as a child. Your family is whole again. You rest serenely. In the morning his blanket is folded on the couch and a note is on the coffee table thanking you and Heather for letting him stay the night. He got up and left for home before either of you two had awoken. All through breakfast you wanted him to come back.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 26

     Everyone wishes for an important life. The world is filled with aspiring artists, captains of industry, and global leaders. No one wants to pump the gas. No one wants to do the books. The reality is if everyone was a brain surgeon there’d be no one left to work at Chick-Fil-A. Seven billion geniuses would starve.
     When you started this job you were so excited to have something to do that you never thought about doing anything else. The work was tedious and plentiful and you were still learning the ropes. After a couple of months it began to seem mindless. It was just the same old thing day after day. It had never occurred to you that this is what work is. There is no real variety in the average work life. It is just a handful of tasks repeated ad nauseum until you quit, die, or get fired.
     Your mind has begun to wander lately. You have been daydreaming about a different life. In an alternate universe you are a huge rock star. You are Pearl Jam. You imagine an interview with MTV news, telling them how you wrote Alive in the shower on the accordion because that’s how you write all your music.
     One of your bosses comes to your desk and interrupts your mockumentary.
     “Hi, Mark. You’re doing a great job.”
     “I love my work.”
     “We are very happy we brought you on board.”
     “Me too.” You give him a big smile that he returns.
     “I need you to start flagging some items you may see and compiling them in a file.”
     “Sure, that’s no problem.”
     “Great. Anytime you see an expense for plastic cutlery or condiments like salt and pepper, including ketchup and mayonnaise packets, track them according to item, cost, and division. We have a little project going on and we want to get our head around some numbers. Also, coffee filters.”
     “I knew I could count on you.” He gives you a pat on the back. “Don’t worry if you miss anything. We have a couple of people on the same project.”
     “How long?”
     “How long do you want me to track them? Is it over a week or a month or longer?”
     “Just keep doing it until we say stop.”
     “I’m on it!” You turn to your computer and act like you are very busy so he knows you mean business. When he leaves you ask yourself if he knew that you just faked your orgasm. You take comfort in the fact that they never know. As long as you kick up your heels and scream they are satisfied.
     The project itself seems meaningless. The numbers are very small. There are a hundred dollars here and fifty dollars there that even when spread over many different companies seem minuscule.
     It surprises you when a couple of months later he comes back and tells you to reject any invoices you receive for sporks. You comply as a matter of course, but it seems so petty. He on the other hand is ecstatic. He just found a way to save the company thirty five thousand dollars a year out of an operating budget that is in the billions.
     You play along as he proclaims that employees can bring silverware from home if they need it. He acts like those greedy people with their utensil needs have been robbing the company blind. You groan and climax on cue. He zips up and goes to tell the next analyst.
     It is not lost on you that the inconvenience he just inflicted on thousands of workers did not even save the company an amount equivalent to his own yearly bonus. You wanted to say something, but it’s not your job. You are a corporate whore, selling your soul for a paycheck. You are sure there are prostitutes who wish they were Eddie Vedder too.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 25

     Expectations are something you never think about. Things come and go. You kind of have an idea how they’ll work out, but specifics seem to be a waste of time.  Your whole life has been spent floating through space like a comet being tugged by the gravity of events around you. This is your truth. It is not the truth of everyone else. The people in your life sweat the details.
     Heather knows exactly what she wants out of life. She is a list maker. Every day there is new one spelling out what it is you need to do. They can be useful like buy milk, or logical like walk the dog, or petty like fold your socks. You’d get mad, but it’s a compulsion. She makes them for herself. She wants everything to be just so.
     If you fail in your tasks she pouts. She gets very disappointed if you do not straighten up the coffee table before bed. Your mother was obsessive compulsive, but she’d just clean things up herself. This is a partnership. It is easier to go along than fight it.
     This was not a problem when you had a do nothing job. You were happy to wash dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. You needed something to do. Now you had a real job with real work and when you got home you were real tired. All you want to do is lie on the couch and watch Sportscenter.
     One day you got tired and felt like you’d had enough. You got home before Heather. The list on the table said, “Mark, walk the dog, do dishes in sink, go to store and buy Danish butter and fresh loaf of French round bread.” You let the dog out the front door, made sandwich, kicked off your shoes and laid on the couch eating without a plate or a napkin.
     When Heather came home she found you there, splayed out in front of the television covered in crumbs chewing on a crust of bread.
     “Why is Milo running loose outside?”
     “You said he needed a walk.” You were instigating. The whole of your being knows this is the wrong way to go, but you can’t help yourself.
     “He could get picked up by the pound.” Her tone is part concern bordering on agitation.
     “We have a gate to the courtyard.”
     “And, the neighbors Mark. What do you think they’ll say?”
     “They like him. They’ll pat him on the head. He’ll sniff their butts. It’ll be fine.”
     Just them Milo wanders in shaking his tail tracking muddy paw prints on the floor.
     “See, he survived.”
     “What did he get into? Look at his feet.”
     “It’s alright. He’s a dog. They love to dig in the mud.”
     She leaves in a huff and goes to the kitchen. “Why are there dishes in the sink?”
     “I made a sandwich.” You holler back.
     “There are cereal bowls and coffee mugs and plates.”
     “I’ll get to it later.” You and the dog start wrestling on the couch.
     You hear the refrigerator door open and slam shut. “Did you even go to the store?”
     “I was going to but we have bread and butter. I used them on my sandwich.”
     She storms back into the living room with the list in her hand. “Did you even see my list?”
     “I did.”
     “I’m tired. I just want to chill out for a little bit. Work kicked my ass today.”
     “I have a job too. I still make sure I take care of our place. I still do what needs to be done. All you’ve done is make a mess. You got crumbs all over the couch. It needs to be vacuumed now.” She is angry. You feed off of it like it’s the dark side of the force.
     “I was hungry. I skipped lunch because I had to crunch stupid numbers all day.”
     “I didn’t eat lunch either.”
     “Because, you’re on a diet. You work in a clothing store. No one eats lunch.”
     “I work in a boutique.”
     “I’m sorry, boutique. You get maybe ten customers a day. I have a mountain of paperwork higher than my head I have to sort through and log. I’m tired of the lists. I just want to come home every now and then and just relax. I don’t want to do chores every day.”
     “You think your job is stressful?” She is defensive. “I am a buyer.”
     “For a boutique. One store. All that graduating college meant is that you went from part time to full time. I’ve got this whole new career to deal with.”
     You know you went too far. You want to take it all back. Her eyes are fire red. Milo has no idea he is witnessing a fight and goes back and forth between the two of you looking for someone to play with.
     You decide to call a truce. “I’m sorry. It’s not you. I’m getting overwhelmed. I shouldn’t take it out on you.” You really are remorseful. You took all the pressure you’ve been feeling and let loose on Heather. You stand up and wrap your arms around her, but she doesn’t hug you back.
     “I am so mad at you.”
     “I know. I was wrong.”
     She accepts your apology and gives you a tight squeeze. “I just want things a certain way. I expect things to be a certain way.”
     “It won’t happen again. I promise.”
     The next day there is another list. While you stand outside watching Milo poop you get an urge to drop your pants and take a crap on the damp green grass. You smile to yourself. That would be unexpected.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 24

     Sometimes, when you need it the most, good fortune smiles upon you. It only took a week to find a job. You were polite, focused, and earnest in the interview. You got a job in the accounts payable department. It was not glamorous. In fact it was deadly boring, but the pay was decent. It was at least enough to pay your bills.
     The people seemed genuinely friendly. FTP is a multinational corporation with numerous holdings. It is too large to be cliquish. Unfortunately, with size comes anonymity. You spent your days in a corner cubicle reviewing expense reports that would in turn be reviewed by someone else and so on until they were paid. You were grateful to have something to do.
     Your home life was still recovering from the shock of your mother’s death. Heather was excited by your new job and pleased that you hadn’t been drinking. She still hovered over you though. She watched your every move. You wanted to know what she was thinking. You wanted to tell her everything is going to be alright. When you’d try to talk to her she’d shut down. Something was on her mind.
     Your father, on the other hand, called you every day. He had never been so accessible. He had never shared so much of himself before. He was thrilled you found work. He’d give you pointers and suggest self-help books. He talked about what he was doing and he’d reminisce about your mother. Often, he’d be the last person you’d speak to at night and the first call you’d receive in the morning. He was becoming a friend.
     It is a fact that most people don’t grow up because they want to, they grow up because they have to. You felt challenged and you were rising to it. The boy you were a year ago barely resembled the man you were today. For the time being you think you have everything figured out.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 23

     You cried when you found out your mother died. Since then not a drop had been shed. It is not that you weren’t miserable. You just couldn’t cry. You loved your mother and she loved you, but she was not very demonstrative. She believed a good life is devoid of unnecessary drama. If she were here she’d tell you to get yourself together. So, that is what you did. Once at the funeral though, you lost all composure.
     Standing next to your father, who you hadn’t even had a chance to speak to, and seeing how distraught he was, weakened your resolve. The two of you could barely stand except for the support of each other. When the preacher asked if anyone wanted to speak, neither of you could mutter a sound past trembling lips.
     Your father’s house afterwards was filled with the ashen faces of strangers and distant acquaintances. They did not know you yet still they did not hesitate to rub your shoulder and offer their condolences. There had never been any family but the three of you and now it was only two.
     When your father took you alone into the guest bedroom you did not know how you would respond. There were so many questions. A part of you felt betrayed by the silence. The better part of you was relieved.
     He sat down on the bed and motioned for you to join him. You sat side by side, but apart and not touching. Both of you stared straight ahead at a blank wall.
     “We should be alone here.” He started. “I don’t think anyone has ever slept in this room. I don’t know why your mother ever bothered to clean it.”
     “What happened? Why did it happen?”
     “Your mother had cancer. She’s been sick a very long time. A couple of years. We did everything we could. In the end we didn’t do enough.”
     “You didn’t tell me.”
     “Your mother didn’t want you to know. We hoped she’d beat it and we wouldn’t ever have to tell you. She didn’t want you to worry.”
     “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
     “If she knew she was going to die she would have let you know. She was doing better. The end came so fast, neither of us were prepared.”
     He takes a deep breath and exhales forcefully like a man about to lift a heavy object. “You are a young man. You have your whole life in front of you. We couldn’t burden you with this. You need to look ahead and not to the past. Bringing you into this dilemma would have ruined that. My life stopped the moment I heard your mother was sick. What if that had happened to you? You would not have graduated. You wouldn’t be getting married. Your mother loved you very much. You are her only child. Don’t blame her for trying to protect you from this.”
     “I don’t. I just wish I had known.”
     Your father is a stoic man. He has never shown much emotion. That is why he and your mother worked together so well. She was polite and proper. He was solid and unflinching. To see him bare his soul breaks your heart.
     “I never had any girlfriends before I met your mother. She is the only person I loved, the only person I ever thought about being with. Thirty five years we were together. We tried so hard to have children. We didn’t think it was going to happen. Then you came along and we were a whole family. We were both so happy. Now she’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”
     You reach out and the two of you cling to each other in a weeping embrace.
     “I am so sorry, Mark. I couldn’t save her.”
     After a few minutes the two of you separate and try to straighten yourselves out.
     “God, if your mother could see us. What would she think?”
     “She hated crying.”
     “She’d have left the room and gotten a towel so we wouldn’t get everything wet.”
     This makes you both laugh and the moment of brevity feels like a gust of fresh air. Your father looks around and comments. “I don’t know if I’ve ever really been in this room before. I wonder if I’m going to miss it.”
     “What do you mean?”
     He pauses because he realizes he let something out he still wanted to keep to himself.
     “I’m going to have to sell the house.”
     You are stunned. “Why?”
     He shrugs. “I’m broke.”
     “Can you get your job back?”
     “I see you know about that.”
     “I’m sure they’ll understand why you resigned.”
     “I didn’t quit. I got let go. When your mother got sick I started spending a lot of time away from work. We went everywhere and saw everyone and did everything we could. I told them what was going on, but they have a company to run and they don’t need a vice president who is there only half the time. I’m glad it happened. It meant I got to spend more time with your mother. We tried a whole bunch of experimental things that weren’t covered by insurance. I cashed out what saving I had.
     “That’s why you cut me off?”
     “I was hitting the bottom of the barrel.”
     “You gave me twelve thousand dollars for an engagement ring?”
     “It was worth it.”
     “And, mother’s ring?”
     “That was my idea. Trust me, your mother did not want to part with it. She was thrilled Heather wanted her own ring.”
     “It was a lot of money. We could have gotten something less expensive.”
     “No you couldn’t. It’s what Heather wanted. All the money in the world was not going to save your mother.”
     “Now what?”
     “With what little equity I still have in this house and your mother’s life insurance I should be able to afford a small condo. I might live in the city, near you and Heather. I probably need to let you know that I don’t think I’ll be able to help you out much anymore.”
     “I guess I need to tell you I quit my job.”
     “That doesn’t surprise me.”
     “It doesn’t?”
     “Your first job always sucks. What’s more, Mike Barry is an asshole. We met together socially a few times. I mentioned you were in school for business and he offered to take you on when you graduated. I don’t think he ever thought I’d call him on it. At least you have some experience to put on your resume now.”
     On the drive home, while Heather slept in the passenger seat, you felt a great well of resolve build up in you. While you may have felt alone by the loss of your mother and your previous life smashed to pieces, you also felt determined. Everything is up to you. No one is going to catch you if you fall anymore. You were alive like you had never been before.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 22

     You got a call on your cell phone from a neighbor of your parents. It seemed odd because you hadn’t spoken to them in two years and hadn't lived at home for longer. You thought maybe they needed someone to cut their grass. It’s a job you might take. You ordered another round from the bartender and answered with a smirk in your voice. Another twenty dollars would pay for your tab.
     The news made you sick to your stomach. Words could barely escape from your mouth. They were sorry for your loss, but sorry seems meaningless when you have just lost your mother. You asked about your father and they said he was devastated and that is why they were calling in his stead. He asked them to. You wanted to know how and why. All they knew is that she’d been sick.
     When the call ended you sat shaking in a cold sweat on the bar stool. There was a fresh drink in front of you. You could not reach to grasp it. The bartender came by to ask if you were alright. You did not speak. Instead you threw up all over yourself the bar and him. Then you left without paying.
     At home you knocked on your front door. You had your keys. You didn’t think to reach for them. When Heather answered and looked at you her eyes filled with rage. You were obviously drunk and a mess and she had had enough. She began to yell at you as you stood there crying. You sobbed, your mother is dead.
     She stopped her tirade, took you by the hand to the bathroom. She washed you and removed your soiled clothes. Then she tucked you into bed. You curled up in a ball and wept silently as she stroked your hair until you fell asleep.
     You awoke alone in the dark with a throbbing headache. Heather was not there and you felt a panic attack come on. You wanted to call out but you were in too much pain. You laid there and squeezed your eyes tightly shut. You tried to pretend that it had all been a dream. You concentrated as if by shear will you could undo what had been done.
     Heather slept on the couch that night, but in the days afterwards the two of you had never been closer. She would not let you out of her sight for a moment. She doted on you. Tragedy does bring people closer together, but it is tiring. You were careful to not lean on Heather too much.
     You kept trying to get in touch with your father, but he would not pick up his phone. You called and left messages. Then some friend of the family would call back and say that he’s okay, he just can’t talk right now. This made you both angry and concerned. The one person who could explain all of this was not talking. You’d seethe with indignation until grief overtook you. When that subsided you were a blank slate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 21

     The more miserable you are, the more helpless you feel, the easier it is for you to justify your drinking. It’s an excuse, not a cause. You want to get lost for a little while. Alcohol lets you do that.
     The biggest problem is that you can’t hide it as well as you think. A wall started to go up between you and Heather. It was subtle and you were buzzed. You didn’t even notice. You figured that as long as you could avoid getting sloppy she wouldn’t notice, but she started going to bed before you and she would be asleep when you finally got there. When you tried to wake her she’d rebuff your advances. You’d pass out and in the morning she’d be up before you.
     At work your displeasure was becoming overt. You’d have a drink before and then during the day. Usually you’d be blissful. Occasionally you’d turn surly. When Bob Thermin finds you playing solitaire at your desk the anger you’ve been repressing escapes your control.
     “What are you doing here?” He stands tall above you and speaks with authority.
     “Playing solitaire.” You reply glibly, not even bothering to look up.
     “Is that what you are supposed to do?”
     This sets you off. “I’m sorry Bob. Is there a trash can you need emptied?”
     “Do you have a problem?”
     You stand up to face him. “Maybe I do. I have been here five months. I have done nothing. Nobody wants me to do anything. So, I play solitaire. I have a business degree and I use it picking up your lunch.”
     “I didn’t get my lunch today.”
     “I ate it. It was delicious. Thank you.”
     “You realize that you are up for review very soon.”
     “And what does that mean? You aren’t going to bring me on. You never had any intention of bringing me on. Since day one you have treated me like shit. I don’t know why I would even want to stay.”
     “Are you saying you want to quit?”
     “I can’t. I promised my father I wouldn’t. He must have pulled a lot of strings to get me this job and you guys might be really good at what you do, but if it were up to me I would tell him to pull your account. Traft is a big company. Why you would treat the son of the vice president of one of your largest clients like shit is a mystery to me. You are all a bunch of assholes.”
     There, you said it. All your frustration hangs in the air on the end of the A word. You feel empowered. You could conquer the world.
     Then Bob says, “You father doesn’t work at Traft. He resigned before we hired you.”
     This shocks you. All your exuberance vanishes in an instant. You wonder what could possibly be going on. How could your father quit his job and not tell you?
     “I’m going to take the rest of the day off.” You feel faint.
     Bob knows he has you where he wants you and he savors the words he says. “You don’t need to come back.”
     You don’t reply. You know you are done. You pack up all your belongings and head out the door without saying a word to anyone. You want to call your father right away. You can’t imagine what you’ll say. There are so many questions. Everything that has been happening with your parents the last few months seems inter related. You want to find the connection. You head to the bar instead.
     You were drunk when you heard your mother died.