“Autumn, are you sad?” I can hear Angelique’s voice wrapping around my desk, and my focus on four CCTV monitors breaks.

She keeps asking that, now used to it like the joke we’ve made it out to be. A little annoyed, a little flattered to be seen, a little angry, I hate not having an easy answer.

“DO I LOOK SAD?!” I ask her on my round trip to the alarm panel where I will ultimately be right back where I was, doing exactly what I was doing.

Angelique laughs. “Yes!” And our conversation is over.

Blame it on the white pencil across the waterlines under my eyes. Sometimes it looks like tears.

Then Kyle, just trying to be friendly, will ask me how I’m doing in the middle of that rhetorical, mundane business e-mail purge I perform bi-weekly just in case, someday, I’m missing something important in my inbox.

Are you good? Are you doing well? I can’t remember exactly how he sets me up like I’ll have to answer a yes or no question but he does it because he’s an intelligent little shit and I’m glad he’s there.

Silence isn’t lying, but silence isn’t an option and I fumble, tumble for that rapid response that seems to have been deleted from my brain a long time ago. Dammit.

“Maybe I’m not okay,” because I like knowing that I’ve never lied to Kyle, “But it’s not a big deal.”

It’s really not. I’m just sort of here, drifting through the main controls, and I know I’m in a place where I can still decide to do whatever I want. Fuck all. Help myself. Go this way or that way. There’s no sense in feeling all wound up if feelings haven’t overridden my decisions, yet.

At least, you know. Not every time. Not permanently.

At the end of my last shift I walked around the building to the install bay where Luke had been listening to my system he installed, fixing the fuckups I had altered with the equalizer settings. I passed the gas grill they’d set outside to rust, memories of barbecues for morale past. When the bay door was open, letting in the sun and the air, I felt that disconnect between work and everything else.

“What’s going on?” Luke said, sounding somewhat genuine, though it was really just ‘hello’ which I much preferred.

Then he got a phone call as I looked around and imagined my answer. I thought about the cigarette waiting between the front seats, the rush hour traffic I have down to a perfect science, knowing that it was too late to make good time… and I imagined the young man taking over my job, probably having pulled us up on his screen in covert black and white. No trust, no hard feelings. I’m used to being in more than once place.

There is just hope, where trust used to be. You can try to watch it. You can try to understand it. And you can do your job, then get in your car and leave it to anyone’s guess.

The Hidden Costs of Absenteeism

Just like it had always been there on the agenda, I came back from Chicago and started treating William like absolute shit.

I’m not talking about the usual way that I might replace the word “love” with “hate” so I can be sassy and cross over boundaries, either.

“Hating you right now!” I’ll shout over at Abby while she’s working.

“Hate you more!” she’ll answer, grinning back, on her way to the warehouse.

No, this was entirely rude and unexpected. This was sickened, annoyed faces and asking for his invitation to conversations with others. This was disregarding him to the point that I eventually stopped looking at him.

At first he still went out of the way to be the one in front of me, in my face with “hello”. But as things worsened, as I became sour and unresponsive, he backed off. And that was that. Then all of the bullshit about how “you guys are the absolute cutest bestest buds” quieted and was replaced with questions like “are you two not talking?” to which I became very good at acting as though the difference was not a thing, at all. The friendship came grinding to a halt and I never did ask for the mittens I had forgotten in the back seat of his car.

Congratulations. You lost someone. And you lost your mittens.

Only a few months later am I looking back, asking myself for the answer I couldn’t give: why.

I suppose it had to do with everything I felt like I couldn’t talk about, or even write about. Maybe it was the adult toy store at the beginning of our road trip – or the fact that the reason why we tooled around Chicago’s Best Buy was for a DVD player.

No one knew, until right now, that I watched a porn movie parodying The Dark Knight. I couldn’t tell anyone comfortably – there was no territorial allowance – how the Joker had kidnapped Commissioner Gordon and only agreed to free him if Batgirl performed certain acts. When they were through, he told Batgirl to “run to papa” then took out a gun and shot her dead.

The Joker looked in to the camera with a wicked smile and said, “Looks like she took two in the back.”

There was a moment during one of the taxi rides when one boy texted a picture and I looked up at the one beside me in the cab and I thought to myself:  I could rule the world.

One might argue that it had to do with the flat tire on the way home. William hit a pothole and we waited hours for roadside assistance. During that time in the cold, he pulled his hood over his head and buried his thoughts in the handheld console he’d brought along as I just sat there passenger, waiting, the weight of many unmentionables on my mind.

He looked over at one point and laughed, “I keep forgetting that you have that on.”

He kept forgetting that my face had been painted at the museum, forgetting that I had a giant-ass butterfly painted on in black and purple, all over my face.

When we got to a tire shop I had to run in through the garage and beg them to help William after closing hours. I did whatever had to be done and never thought twice. New tire? Whatever. Go ahead and insure the other three as well. How many hundreds of dollars? Whatever. Consider it…

“An investment,” he suggested. Yeah. Money spent in a time of need on him.

I remember taking a seat inside and watching him sit down all the way across the room. The walls that would never seem to come down. I fumbled through my bag pulling out shit from our trip, figuring out which pamphlet was trash and what should be organized to go back inside. Receipts, don’t need them. Hotel key, I think I’m going to keep it –

“You should come sit over here.”

Pick up the trash pile, pick up my shit and go over and sit next to him. Briefly feel significant again before he pulls out the 3DS and plays through a Kingdom Hearts you conquered months ago.

We spent an extra night on the road. When he pointed out a bar across the street from the shop the whole of my brain was gone and I was ready to have a drink. Ready to order a beer and just take things from there. Broken and at the whim of my own potential behavior.

Is there anything more sobering than the way he spotted a Panda Express at the last minute and detoured? I don’t think so. Nothing is as good as killing any chance of a buzz you may have had than a plate full of slimy, snotty fried lumps.

‘The 3 Little Kittens’ is considered to be one of the first informational pieces specifically aimed at children for pure amusement. It was later adapted as a nursery rhyme.

Three little kittens have lost their mittens and they began to cry. Oh mother, dear, see here – we fear – our mittens, we have lost.

That was the last time I ate fast food, actually.

Lost your mittens? You naughty kittens, then you shall have no pie.

Finally on the road back home, one young man quoted ‘Swiper, no swiping’ to my phone and I had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked William. The drive was clear, open, and the snow had started to dry up quickly.

He said, “It’s from Dora the Explorer.”

“Oh.” Well that’s weird. It’s a baby’s show. “How do you know that?”

“Because I used to watch it.” He answered, never taking his eyes off the open road. I turned back to the passenger window with a sick feeling in my gut about everything I’d done and everything I had not.

What world was I living in? Any of them? Was I not supposed to?

Why. As if it wasn’t obvious a long time ago. Autumn and her little perspective of the boy in the bow tie.

Have you ever been gazing in to an aquarium of jellyfish and almost lost yourself had it not been for the constant parallel between the ways they gracefully touched and the way you know you never could?

Ever kept track of someone who tried keeping track of you but couldn’t see you? Have you ever looked down a long exhibit of jellies and seen that guy standing there, the one with the bow tie, looking back at you? Standing tall, over the crowd, in his leather jacket, did you ever wish for a moment that he wasn’t just waiting for you to catch up?

Know that my hands and my fingers have frozen all winter long. That I was afraid of a reality where my mittens weren’t always suspended in that back seat – afraid of finding out what happened if I got them back and that was it.

What more of a pointless thing, that would only have spread from inside of me to others? You understand then, I tell myself, why there is no swiping and why we simply couldn’t have any of that going on any longer. The silent night in Chicago, the black raindrops on ‘5’ gum that remind you every time you unwrap a piece, how there were no umbrellas and that morbid rose tattoo on his arm…

The profound sadness, when I fell in love with him.

Deuces.

Protein, stimulants and alcohol are a creative cocktail when I don’t have anywhere to be the following day.

You know that thing that happens when you write your heart out over some old bullshit and wake up the next morning entirely numb and even in disagreement with how you felt before? I literally stumbled out of bed with the knowledge of what I felt needed to be said last night and I wondered, “Is that why they call it BED TIME?!”

I mean sure, the emotions must BE there somewhere. But I can’t even relate. So thank you, Word Press, for eating those nostalgic moments so I don’t have to live them constantly.

“Lost a few good bitches/met some more bad bitches…” – Lil Wayne lyric.

Seriously – any separation between myself and someone else was NEVER entirely my own doing. I’ve picked some real troubled, abusive and even dumb mother fuckers in my time. I never just went around randomly throwing stones at the closest ones to me – I felt some shit hit me HARD. Other times it got so stale I couldn’t even breathe.

I may send out those little heart pieces and feel em glowing out in God Knows Where in God Knows Who, but I’d never trade an ex for the company that I keep now. My people are my favorite people and this time is the best time. In my clear, sober, rational mind there is a wave of relief when I think about how I don’t have to deal with the entire packages that were admittedly 80% bad mixture and 20% my own romanticized beliefs.

I mean, yeah – Ode To. Previous chapters with all my heart. Feel the pain. That’s what semi-anonymous thought logs and phonographs in cyberspace are for. In the end, life is life and people aren’t all gonna fit in the present. Not me in yours, and certainly not everyone in mine.

Maybe I didn’t need to pour the gasoline and torch the bridges like I did. My biggest regrets are lessons I don’t really wanna take back, though. When all is said and done I said goodbye.

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New York, dismissing former contestants.

The One From the University, or, Dear Jackie and Katie,

Sometimes I try to find you but I can’t. The two of you made me realize over time that it’s okay to be silly and have fun. After all…a Queen is often first a princess. If only that hadn’t been so hard to conceive. I have a habit of making people the expense of really hard lessons.

Perhaps it’s better this way, to keep me going, to keep me looking out for that dollhouse on the horizon.

***

I was messed up when I met you and I didn’t know quite what to make of having moved a percentage of my things in to a little room so far away from home. I know that I frightened you until I made you laugh, and I know that you learned to appreciate bringing me along like a badass accomplice. There was a big plush flower around your computer monitor, Rugrats wallpaper and various sweatshirts and apparel in your closet from all of the sports and organizations you’d come from. We didn’t make any sense so I tried to unify us as the PowerPuff girls – a redhead, a blonde, and a brunette who each had their own strengths as common ground.

I wish I could have stayed strong for you.

While we didn’t have a falling out, I pulled away and withdrew. Every dinner, every party, I couldn’t connect. Brat. Angel. Diva. I loved how you wrote “AUTUMN ONLY CAN COME IN HERE” across your door, but we’d go in to one of those stores in the mall and when the two of you ran for the little plastic tiaras, I felt out-of-place. You invited me to one of those exotic locales for Spring break and I told myself that it was all part of a world where I didn’t fit in. Where I couldn’t go.

At that point in my life I was very tired of the formulas and technicalities. Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Relationships felt like work and there was more than enough of that to do on myself.

I wish I would have been open and honest enough to tell you. I wish it hadn’t gotten awkward as we steadily took fewer steps in the other’s direction. It was just one year, one dorm room circumstantial clusterfuck and fuzzy memories of the Poo-Tang Clan but it stays with me, all of the goodness and potential that I failed to embrace.

Even as I handed Jackie a poem on my last day on campus, I knew back then what was going to happen. I was going to miss Jackie and Katie very much.

A sweet little thing I knew

Was an attempt

a failed experiment

in sisterhood strategy, my first and final

dollhouse tragedy

 

My Powerpuff angels had

Boyfriends who were witty

And Hello Kitty on their wall

If anyone disturbed our pretty little world

Calling Daddy would fix it all

 

A wicked side lying in wait…

Curly hair blow-dried to straight

In trouble from burning the books

And out of it with the right looks

Cursed with a Cover Girl shine

Order and anarchy combined

 

How adoringly watched

Real princesses can be

Laughter shielded from real life

Meant everything to me

 

But time revealed what I already knew

To live as a member of their court would be untrue

So I thanked the stars for that image of ours

And I did what I had to do…

 

A sweet little thing I knew

Was an attempt

We were a failed experiment

In sisterhood strategy

My first and my favorite

Dollhouse tragedy

 

sadpuffs

In Reaction To This Late, Late Night at 4 In the Morning.

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For the Girls.

Dear Marcia, you are the best and only friend from the past that I could never start drama with. I fondly recall getting the autographs of circus clowns, NKOTB buttons the size of saucers and the greatest Halloween parties ever. Dear Julie, I remember you dancing to ‘Bolero’ in my backyard and Leaf-a-boxin’ in yours. Dear Ashley, forever my favorite memories of singing to Disney cassettes and getting lost in Owosso when our little world seemed so vast. Dear Amber, whose mother used to eat every other day, you and Angie were the best pompon girls and the cheerleaders wished they had your moves. Dear Second Amber, your intellect had me hooked and the whip on your wall intimidated me. Dear Christal, I appreciated the culture you stood for because it was unknown to me.  When you grabbed my hand in 8th grade I respected how much you valued sisterhood and how little you cared about what everyone else thought. Dear Upper Classman Julie, that Buick was the sweetest ride as we took twenties from our mothers who trusted we’d make wise decisions on the town. Dear Crystal, blessed be. Dear Mandy, you were the escapist from the social game and I am grateful to have gotten the bottoms of my pant legs wet from having to walk. I watched a man pierce your tongue and I knew I could never be that wild.

And to all of you as well: I am so very sorry. My broken bonds were well-known throughout. Please forgive me for taking so long to figure out who I was. I’m sorry that I did cruel things rather than communicate. I’m sorry for judging harshly and for playing games. I’m sorry that I lied to you when it was easier than being truthful. You are the only ones I can’t forget, the only ones I really cared about and the ones that I will always regret having lost.

The boys were carefree, indestructible and easy to love, but my greatest affairs were with you.

Christopher and the Last of February

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hotelroom

 

I took a few days off and went home this weekend to mess things up with my brother. We stayed in a few local towns, drinking, smoking, swimming and dining on lobster bisque. It was pretty weird, but then again….so are we.

One of the bars we went in to, I used to think was this rowdy place when I was younger. All of my party friends would wanna be there. Well, this time we were the only ones left and I wondered if I’d won or lost. We put too much money in to the jukebox, bullying it, blasting ELO, Bowie, Billy Joel and anything we thought needed to be said.

It was home, it was never home, it’s home, it’s not. It’s going away, it’s new, it’s old. In the end I decided that we had to make our own good times no matter how much around us had changed – and I believe we are still particularly good at having a good time.

Principal Danny

Today the ‘50 Year-Old Gamer’ who I lovingly started calling ‘Danny’ (“ooh. Only my mother calls me Danny”) came back in today. I hadn’t seen him in a while. It had turned out that I was right – he was no longer the principal at that school, though he was still in education. And that shift had something to do with why he had been inquiring working with us, something about wondering what he really wanted in life if not being a little lost. Score points for the nosy AP chick.

Previously he’d come walking in wearing a ‘silly-on-purpose’ outfit covered in palm trees, like he was a big shot on vacation. I’d asked on the way out, “Oh, did you buy ‘Dead Island’?”

“No, I played and traded that in a loooong time ago-”

“Cause you’re dressed like one.” Ba-dum.

He’d given me his number last time, and I’d scribbled it on to my worksheet, instantly forgetting about it in between the little boxes about display audits and traffic observations. I was supposed to let him know if we were hiring and the joke had been, that calling him late at night was ‘absolutely preferred’. (Hey. I’d googled this man and flattered him when I could talk about his life. So I smiled when he’d said that.)

Wasn’t smiling, today. He spent some time with the staff and on the way out he stopped and said, “I’m working on another Masters and My Wife in in stage 4 of terminal cancer.” We stared back and forth.

“What. Nothing to say?”

I told him about losing a family member to cancer, who was older than his wife, and how tragic it felt to focus on being robbed of a lifetime. He was like, “Yup. She’s not gonna see her kids graduate – ” and that whole about-to-lose-it-thing was going on and all I could do was nod and stare in to his eyes.

I said, “I wish we didn’t die” and he grinned a little.

Then I added, “But…didn’t you…you were at a….religious, school, weren’t you?” Right? When I was creeping?

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Soooo….she’s actually….going to live….forever then?”

And he sort of sideways nodded. But he never said ‘absolutely’. He said, “Yes. I mean. According to all of the books that I have studied. Yes, she will.”

I will learn later that he went over to the girls at the information desk and commented that he bet it was amusing, working with me. And then I’ll know why they were all looking over at me when I did the “fingers to them, back to my eyes cuz I’m watching you” signal in response.

Then he said, “I don’t know. You know. I don’t know.”

This man who started off treating me like shit, like we were all idiots when he didn’t like our service in one way or another, this mean bastard in his power blazer and faded jeans. I didn’t know how to elaborate for him because I was stuck in the moment.

That’s how he’s doing, now. And he didn’t tell a stone wall – he told me, so I thought about it, today. I thought about the whole scheme of what I knew. The big shaggy dog that was in his car sometimes. How he talks with his mother. How he hasn’t bought a video game in a really long time. How his whole asshole struggle wasn’t just sarcasm or a rude part of him – it was real, now.

How sad he made me feel.