“But what if the earth is flat.”
I had never heard this much emotion in her voice our entire relationship.
“It’s not flat, that’s been proven,” I said as if I were adding to the conversation.
“But have you yourself proven it?” she asked. “Anybody can prove anything, but how can you truly know anything for yourself unless you go out and experience it yourself.”
“I mean… there’s birds and stuff.”
The conversation lasted surprisingly long staying on the same subject, which I didn’t think either one of us was all that interested in. We always did this. Argue about things that were already solved. I watched her stare at her plate. She threw two meatballs into her mouth before telling me what she thought about the way I coughed.
"It’s too loud," she said. “Way too loud. And it’s scratchy. When I picture your throat, I picture there being a bunch of bug bites on it.”
“You don’t have to picture my throat if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to, but boy do I.”
Whenever she said boy do I, I felt like I was in the 1920's. I think I would have done well back then. Maybe back then I would have had a job and some friends.
“Do you ever think how easily one of us could ruin things,” she said.
“I think I’ll ask for more lemonade.” Her eye contact was so intense I should have brought an extra shirt.
“I’m serious. It would be so easy for me to just dump your lemonade on you, spit on you, and start screaming, "He raped me, he raped me!" It would cause something so different in our relationship. There’s no way we would stay together after that."
“That’s probably true, yeah.”
“And same goes for you. You could push me over right now - right as I’m talking - you could yank my shirt off and grope me here in front of everyone, or punch me, and it wouldn’t even have to be bad intention you could just do it to see what would happen. And then we’d never talk again. Something like that would be irrevocable no matter the intention.”
“Sounds like bad intention to me.”
My lemonade came, which was the highlight of the evening.
“I hate gift cards, she said.”
“Tell me more.”
“People always act like it’s not real money. Like Fran took me out to dinner one night, and I was like - this is so expensive - and she was like it’s fine I have a gift card. It’s like, you can just say you’re rich, that’s okay.”
“How’s Fran ?” I asked.
“I hate how people talk about money. But don’t get me started on mental health.”
The lemonade was sweeter than I remembered. I expect consistency from outdoor cafes, but you don’t get that here.
Sometimes the tables are clean, and sometimes you rest your elbows on the table, and you’ve got sticky elbows the rest of the day.
Joan hadn’t slept much the past week, which made her a little more talkative than normal. I always enjoy being with her, but sometimes I’m not sure how she wants me to respond. And sometimes I wonder if everything she says is serious or if nothing is. Both of those scenarios frighten me. She hates so many things. She hates how people talk about sleep. When I ask her, "how did you sleep" she always says something like, "I slayed a dragon and drowned 3 times so you tell me.”
Once I decided to take my mind off the overly sweet lemonade, I tossed my face back into conversation. Sometimes I felt like a bungling clown talking to her.
“I think it’s great more people talk about mental health.”
“Quality over quantity,” she said. “Everyone says they’re depressed. Having a bad week is not depression. If you can get out of bed, you’re fine.”
“I don’t know if that’s fair,” I said with a sneeze.
“Well I do,” she said, mashing another meatball in her mouth.
“These meatballs remind me of Carlos.”
“Who’s that ?”
“He was a guy in magic school bus I think.”
“Did he like meatballs?”
“I don’t know.”
We sat in that silence for a while with nothing much to ponder.
"Do you think 3 is a magic number" she asked me.
“I don’t believe in magic.”
“Well, I do, so help me out.”
“To another 3 years of magic,” I said while raising my sweet lemonade.
“I don’t particularly like when you’re sarcastic you know. It’s not an affable look for you. I genuinely believe in magic. And I genuinely am excited for the next 3 years. Not just of our relationship but of everything. And you know how I hate the word genuine, so you can be sure I’m really being genuine.”
“I am too.”
“Before this restaurant closes let’s do something insane.” She stared at me hard.
“I am not going to punch you.”
“No not like that. Let’s challenge our relationship.”
“That sounds nice and all, but I think instead of challenge, we should enjoy it.”
“Let’s break up.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said, but she was looking at my large nose.
“This would be the most challenging thing. If our relationship can survive a breakup, it can survive anything.”
I drank more lemonade even though it was getting worse by the sip.
“How would we break up as a test?”
“We don’t speak or see each other for exactly one year.”
“That’s 52 weeks.”
“That’s a lot of weeks.”
“Exactly. If we love each other that much our love will be that much stronger.”
I put my lemonade on the table…. Well, she would tell me it’s not my lemonade, it’s just a lemonade. If I keep talking like that, soon I’ll start calling her my woman when she’s just a person.
“Do you want to break up?” I asked. “Genuinely?”
“But like for real.”
“It’s the only way.”
“Only way for what?”
“For true love.”
She pointed to me and mouthed, "he raped me," as a joke I guess and then left the café.
I wasn’t really sure what to think. I started wondering about what would happen if she had groped me just now. Would I push her away and never see her again? Would I pretend nothing happened? Would I laugh? Would I cry? Would a demonic part of me rise up and weirdly would I enjoy it? I don’t know.
I felt less despondent, more tired. I loved Joan a lot, a whole lot, but sometimes our conversations felt like when you walk outside then go back inside then walk outside again, and you’re like wait what am I doing.
I lay back in my chair for the first time.
“Another lemonade please”
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, but she had lousy posture so her back was in immense pain. Exasperated with the world, she sat alone and was pretty sure there was a splinter in her thigh. This wall isn’t even made of wood, she thought to herself. She hopped off the aluminum wall and went over to watch the other kids play in the sandbox.
Humpty’s parents – Cameron and Nicole – were not happy people. They thought it would be quite entertaining to name their daughter Humpty despite their last name being Dumpty. “It would be hilarious,” Nicole Dumpty said while giving birth. Cameron Dumpty was holding her hand while using his free hand to gather skittles for his mouth. The doctor was trying hard to concentrate and insisted Nicole should stop talking and focus on her breathing. “But just imagine,” said Nicole with a big grin. She had the pain tolerance of a brick wall.
Humpty did not inherit those pain tolerance genes. She received genes that made her irritable to any noise, made her back hunch over, and made her left leg three whole inches longer than her right.
Humpty Dumpty had a horrible childhood, and it wasn’t even over. She was a nine-year-old girl filled with rage.
“Why the hell did you name me Humpty,” she asked one time.
“Don’t say hell in this household,” replied Nicole.
“I need a five-letter word that rhymes with Triscuit,” said Cameron.
Humpty would often take long walks just to get out of the house. Admiring the falling leaves of the swaying oak trees, this was her chance to blow off some steam. Her friend Amber said this was abnormal behavior for a nine-year-old. Humpty told her to “screw off” and hasn’t heard from her since.
Humpty watched the boys build sandcastles at recess. If I kick them over, they’re gonna cry, she thought.
"Why are you smiling at us,” asked one of the boys. He was oblivious to the gum someone put in his hair.
"I have more power than you know,” said Humpty.
The boy didn’t reply to that. He had an unbelievable amount of sand in his butt.
Humpty went back to the aluminum wall to eat a snack she had stolen from a nearby deli. It was a bunch of salami in a plastic container, but she thought it was pepperoni.
Humpty enjoyed sitting on the wall during recess because she had a view of every stupid event taking place. Two girls on the seesaw calling each other fat. The swing set boys seeing how far they could spit. Ronald Jernigan dry humping the slide because he hit puberty in preschool. Nobody knew what to do with that kid.
Humpty sat up in her room one night when the Deli manager called her mother. Nicole threw open Humpty’s door despite the sign that said, “I’m writing a suicide note, don’t come in.”
Nicole stomped her foot, which was a peculiar habit she developed over the years. She used to be a dancer.
“You’re always stomping,” said Humpty without looking up from her pocket dictionary.
“The Deli man called.”
“Who’s the Deli man?”
“YOU KNOW WHO THE DELI MAN IS.” The last time Nicole yelled like that was when nobody showed up at her wedding.
Humpty got up and started making her bed. She always made her bed when she needed to think. But Nicole was persistent. She wasn’t going to leave the room solely because she was proud of her daughter for making her bed. Nicole was still angry. That rage gene had to come from somewhere.
“I didn’t raise you to steal salamis.”
“It was pepperoni.”
“Deli Man said salami.”
They argued about that detail for seven minutes. By minute six, Cameron zoomed into the room.
“We’re out of salami,” he said casually.
“Well, that’s because a salami thief is living under our roof.”
When she heard this, Humpty looked up to see that the ceiling was leaking. Some sort of liquid was dousing her lonesome pillow. Humpty had a satin pillowcase so that sleeping wouldn’t mess up her hair, but she didn’t own a hairbrush, so her hair was always tangled anyway.
“I’m banishing you,” said Nicole.
“I’m going to buy salami,” said Cameron.
Cameron stumbled out of the room. Nicole explained that Humpty would be banished from her bedroom and would move to the living room because “that’s what it’s for.”
After moving her bed into the living room, Humpty lay down. Her bed was 1 foot by 1 foot, so it was not an arduous move. Both legs hung off her bed every night, especially the one that is three inches longer. Humpty didn’t mind her legs hanging off her bed. She was too focused on minding everything else.
Amber knocked on the door. It startled Humpty so much that she had a great fall.
Humpty threw herself back onto her feet and stared into the peephole, hoping she would watch Amber have a heart attack right then and there. She loved watching things through that tiny window. One night, she set up a projector outside and watched the movie Pollyanna through the peephole.
Nicole had fallen asleep out of pure exhaustion, and she lay on the floor in Humpty’s room. She couldn’t hear Amber’s knocking. She couldn’t hear much at all, really. She was a deep sleeper and deaf in her left ear.
Getting impatient, Amber attempted to open the door in case it was unlocked. Amber and Humpty were both surprised to see the door open. Neither one knew what to do in a situation like this.
Amber asked if Humpty wanted to come over to her house and make whipped cream on the rocks. This was a tempting offer for Humpty, but a girl filled with rage doesn’t give in to temptation easily.
“I don’t want your rocks,” said Humpty. “You haven’t talked to me in 2 weeks.”
“You told me to screw off,” said Amber. “So I did and now I’m back.”
Cameron drove up to the driveway and walked to the door with eight grocery bags filled with salami. He also got a pack of trail mix. He was thinking about going on a hike.
“Hey you cool kids,” he said with confidence.
They stared at him. There was a rumble in Humpty’s stomach that sounded like a blender trying to mash peanut butter and honey. She should have stolen more salami.
“Welp. It’s nap time.” Cameron was nervous around his daughter sometimes. He felt uncomfortable around all women including his wife. He tried to say vagina one time and fainted.
“I am grieving, and I want a friend to cry on,” said Amber.
“A friend’s shoulder,” said Humpty.
“You want a friend’s shoulder to cry on.”
“I don’t need more shoulders. I have two.”
“Okay.” But Humpty wasn’t okay. She was never okay.
It took great restraint to stop herself from slugging Amber in the jaw. She was so not okay.
She started talking quickly in Spanish to distract her from the fact that she was not okay. It reminded her of the time when she was just eight years old and failed a Spanish test.
“You will never be Hispanic,” said Señor Joe.
“Maybe because I’m not Hispanic,” replied Humpty.
“I want to stay friends because your parents are rich, so I think one day you might take me on a vacation.” Amber’s mouth remained open after she said this, and she started to drool a little.
“My parents aren’t rich. We can barely afford salami.” Amber could feel the truth of this statement and realized the Dumptys were not rich at all. Who knows where she heard that rumor.
Amber lingered a moment because the sun was in the position to make exciting shadow puppets on the concrete driveway. She had a faint memory of Humpty and her making shadow puppets with eggs they had stolen from the deli. Amber had a smile that turned into a frown when she remembered how Humpty would crack the eggs on her head and then complain about being hungry. Amber no longer wanted Humpty as a friend. She decided she was putting too much effort into this friendship and wished she spent more time kayaking or learning to knit.
Amber walked away.
Humpty let out a sigh of relief. She had bronchitis, so the sigh sounded more like a vacuum cleaner sucking up popcorn.
“I wish I could be more honest,” said Humpty to a mosquito on her arm. “I wish I could say: Amber, I don’t like you. I don’t like anyone. Everyone is annoying, and I want to be alone. I don’t want to catch up and talk about how 1st-grade summer camp was. I know how it was. It was the best summer of your life. You were in love with Jude, but he didn’t want to kiss you because he said you smelled like stale cashews, and that made you cry. No one cares. Don’t talk to me. Don’t anyone talk to me.”
The mosquito flew away.
Humpty Dumpty walked back to her wall and threw an egg at it. The yolk splattered and drooled down slowly.
“I wish I could say that.”
"Say this three times fast: Sheila’s a whore, Sheila’s a whore, Sheila’s a whore."
That’s what I said.
I said it three times.
I said it fast.
Sheila didn’t deserve those crude remarks. In fact, she was the most loyal companion I ever had. She knows I’m just jealous of her career writing tongue twisters. She sells seashells by the seashore was her first big break. I never liked that one personally, but that’s the one most people still talk about. There are not enough homophones in that one. And the premise is dry. I’ve never been even slightly interested in beach life. I’ve gone a few times, and I always get sunburnt. And I definitely don’t collect seashells. I thought they were called sand shells anyways.
So we were fighting, and I said my tongue twister three times fast, and she got quiet all of a sudden. She looked me dead in the eyes, but that look was like a living dragon breathing fire down my neck. When she stares at me in silence with that look of a warrior, I know I’ve done something wrong. When I do something right, she high-fives me and buys me candy.
We were arguing about the jingle her dishwasher makes. I said it sounds like a Christmas song; Sheila said it sounds like the ice cream truck. Whenever we get into arguments of these sorts, we remain calm. This afternoon was different. I probably lost my temper because it was an abnormally humid day, and the humidity effortlessly moved inside the apartment. More likely it was due to my extreme jealousy.
She ended her silence by telling me she was ashamed, not that I called her a whore, but that I used a short tongue twister that must be said three times fast. She always hated those: Which witch is which, six sticky skeletons, fresh fried fish.
“You’re a hack,” she told me. She thought the three times fast tongue twisters were cheap and easy to come up with. Her colleague became famous before Sheila because of those, so I think she might be jealous, too. She secretly tried to publish a three times fast tongue twister under a pseudonym, but she had no success. Her tongue twister was “squiggly squiggles” and her editor told her there were “too many squiggles, not enough umpf.”
After the fight, Sheila left me. I’m not sure why. The jealousy had something to do with it perhaps. She mentioned one time how she would rather be with anybody else, but I’m pretty sure she was sleep talking.
I started going through the things she left behind. There was a big blue binder of old writings in the attic. Scribbles on notebooks. Large cardboard cutouts that said things like I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen. That one was from her diary but would have made her a great deal of cash I’m sure. The previous diary entry read I’m deeply depressed, and I’m starting to think my job is meaningless.
Sheila and I had been together two full days, so I needed some time to sulk. I’m sure she’s doing well. I’m sure I’ll be okay, too. You get a job, find someone to complain about it, then find someone else who listens better. I guess that’s life.
I just finished reading I Am Malala and the only thing I can remember is that she likes playing Connect Four.
I am a huge fan of Connect Four. I win most the time, and I am eager to challenge Malala to a game one day. She’ll look at me with a mischievous smile and say, “check mate,” but she won’t notice that I actually have the winning move, so I’ll say, “The sun is setting,” as I connect my fourth token.
She’ll look up at me and ask why I said that, and I’ll explain that the token falling into place sort of looks like a setting sun.
She’ll tell me “that’s not funny” and I’ll say “I never said it was. Now let me enjoy my victory.”
She’s a good sport so we’ll clean up together and grab some lunch downtown.
As I imagined this scenario, I started to question my reading comprehension skills. I had just finished an incredible book about Malala’s journey in Swat Valley and how she overcame intense oppression and bullets from the Taliban. And all I could think about was Connect Four.
I thought really hard and tried to remember what else had happened in this amazing book. Again, I started thinking about Connect Four, but I caught myself, and patted myself on the back for being so self-aware.
I thought about Malala in the hospital and remembered how she asked for fried chicken. What kind of dipping sauce did she use I thought aloud. My roommate who heard me, said “what?” but was clearly busy with something else and didn’t want to hear my answer. I went to my room, still thinking about the sauce.
Eventually I remembered other parts of the book, but I realize that the things that tend to stay in my head the longest are often the tiny details. I wish I could remember more meaningful details, but I just keep circling back to Connect Four. Maybe that’s the lesson I thought, this time to myself. Maybe focusing on Connect Four is the key to life. Take a deep breath, zoom out, and know that we are all humans who either have or have not played Connect Four.
“The Spanish boy is really cute,” all the girls in the village say.
“The Spanish boy is so athletic,” the Spanish boy’s soccer coach says.
“The Spanish boy’s eyes shine so bright, they blinded me. Now I can’t see. I need to get a promotion in order to pay these medical bills.” Lawrence Dincey said this. He didn’t know the Spanish boy very well, but he sure wished he did.
The Spanish boy’s name is Madrid, and he’s from Copenhagen. He’s called the Spanish boy because he looks Spanish and people are racist.
“You want an empanada?” People would say.
“I’m vegan, gluten free, and have a serious eating disorder,” Madrid would say. People laughed because they thought the Spanish boy was funny. He wasn’t funny at all. People are just jerks.
Madrid became sick of everyone misunderstanding him, so he went to the only person he knew he could talk to.
“Welcome to Taco Bell!” Shouted Clyde Wister. Clyde was the manager of this Taco Bell, and he could do it all. Make the tacos, restock the fridge, take phone calls, yell out the greeting. Everything.
“Hey, Clyde. We need to talk.” Madrid ordered a number three. It was prepared in four seconds. Clyde brought it out and sat down with Madrid.
“Are people still calling you Spanish boy?”
“Yes. Yes, they are, Clyde. My whole life. Why would that just change. Idiot.”
“Woah, buckaroo, ease up, pony boy. Get off your high horse, and have a conversation. I’m here to help but if you’re gonna throw slurs at me, I’m gonna go back to work.”
This Taco Bell was struggling to stay in business. The current promotion was “buy a side of cilantro, get seven tacos free.”
“Hey, Clyde. I want to apologize,” mumbled Madrid.
“Well. I shouldn’t have used a slur. You’re not an idiot.”
“Thank you for saying that, dawg. I appreciate you.” Clyde took a bite of Madrid’s taco without asking. He felt it was part of completing the apology. It was Madrid’s Penance. They were both extreme Catholics.
“You been to confession yet today?” Clyde continued.
“Yeah I went a couple times this morning, but now I definitely need to stop by this afternoon.”
There was a lull in the conversation. They stared at the ceiling. Someone had scribbled clyde sux ass. Madrid remembered he had a taco. He ate the whole thing, and Clyde watched, wishing he could have eaten the masterpiece himself. A man opened the door.
“Get down, I’m a school shooter!”
The door chimed.
“Get down I say. I say get down I say. Down you go I say get down.”
Madrid was starting to think this was a bad rapper or something. Clyde spoke up.
“Sir, this is a Taco Bell, not a school!”
“Don’t tell me who I am!” The Taco Bell shooter announced.
“You told us who you were,” Madrid contributed. The Taco Bell shooter stayed true to himself.
“This is a school. A school of food!”
“You’re thinking of a cafeteria!” Clyde was getting frustrated. Madrid was humming the rapper’s lines to himself.
“Prove to me this is not a cafeteria, and I won’t shoot.”
Clyde slowly stood up with his hands held above his head.
“Okay. Well, you have to be over the age of 26 to enter this establishment, so that is proof no students are allowed here.”
Clyde was always full of bullshit. It helped sometimes. This really made the Taco Bell Shooter Think.
“Oh. Oh, no. I’m only 19. I shouldn’t be here.” He made his way to the door.
“Wait,” said Clyde. “Stay. Everyone is welcome here.”
“Aw gee wiz, cowboy, that means a lot.”
“But I’m still gonna have to shoot you.”
Madrid spoke up.
“Hold on one moment, I say. I say hold on I say. Where’s your gun?”
The Taco Bell shooter searched his pockets but came up empty.
Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously. Mrs. B’s chair was nice and smooth, silky even. It had gems placed into the wood on the arm rests. It looked like it belonged to a queen. Mr. B’s chair just had a bunch of splinters. In any case, I was their son, and they often forgot about me.
With both chairs held high above their heads, it was clear this was a showdown. Not a normal showdown some might say, but for the Bentwood family, this was a pretty average day. They’d already consumed their steel cut oats while I ate the leftovers, which today was two blueberries. They were sour. I spit them out.
“Sign the divorce papers already!” Mrs. B yelled as she hurled her chair in Mr. B’s direction. She missed. It was a direct hit on Ernie, my pet hamster, killing him immediately. I should stop being home-schooled, I thought. Mr. B. carefully watched this action unfold. “No,” he said.
Now, there was only one person holding a chair in the air, and I sure wished it was me. I went to Ernie to clean up the scene, and I put him in the compost. His corpse fell on top of the banana peel Mrs. B had used that morning. I wish I had been able to eat that banana.
“If we didn’t have a kid, this would never have happened!” Mr. B yelled. I have a good dad. He likes to get drunk and take naps.
“I never wanted one in the first place!” Just when you think your mom is on your side, she can really turn it around. I’m twelve years old and they still haven’t named me.
“This is my house!” a new voice said as the front door was smashed open. My stomach grumbled.
“Oh, so this is the man who caused the affair!” Mr. B said.
“No, I’m not sure who this man is,” replied Mrs. B. I really didn’t care to find out who this new man was. I just wished they had left me some oatmeal.
“I’m Joe Trader!” he yelled too loudly. We live in a one-story home. “My company purchased this property, and now I’m moving in!”
Mr. and Mrs. B looked flustered. I was glad to meet Joe Trader. I wanted to ask him why he refused to sell Chobani Yogurt because if he did, then my parents would only do their shopping at one grocery store instead of two. But he was busy. He held an ax in his left hand. His right hand was missing.
“If you don’t evacuate this place in the next 60 seconds, I’m going to saw you in half!” yelled Trader Joe.
“I think you mean ax us in half,” said Mr. B.
“No, idiots, you mean cut us in half.” Mrs. B. was right. She was also a whore.
Joe Trader told them it didn’t matter what the phrase was but that his ax was going to be used if they didn’t get out of his new house/store. I was ready to leave this dump, but I wanted to keep watching.
“Okay. We’re leaving.” Mrs. B was up to something. "Just sign this,” she said.
She grabbed the divorce papers that had been sitting on my bedside table for three years and brought them to Joe Trader. She whispered something in his ear, and I think it may have been something about forging Mr. B.’s signature, but it also may have been asking for sex. After all, she’s a whore.
Mr. B. was getting upset. “I’m getting upset,” he stammered. He’s always upset. Especially when his oatmeal gets cold. God, I would kill for some oatmeal. Literally a piece of bread sounds amazing. Slice of cheese, anything.
Mr. B. sat down and started to pout. Sixty seconds was up.
“AARRRGGHHHHHHH!” mumbled Joe Trader. He dropped his ax, pulled out a grenade and hit my father square in the head.
The house was burned to the ground. In any case it was no longer our house.
Jacque was standing in line at Disney World, waiting to meet Minnie Mouse for the third time that week. He wished his wife gave hugs like Minnie.
“Hey, you in line for Minnie?”
Jacque turned around to face a man with a I❤️ NY tee shirt, looking at him with a big grin.
“I sure am!” Jacque replied. Somehow Jacque knew they were going to be best buds.
The new friend told Jacque about his dream of visiting Egypt and about why his mother named him Julius even though she despised that name. Julius was quite the talker.
“I’m from North Nebraska, but now I’m in South Nebraska.”
Jacque was beaming. “Right on, man. I’ve always wanted to visit Nebraska.”
When the line dwindled down, and it was their turn to meet Minnie, Jacque and Julius looked at each other and smiled.
“Let’s take this picture together!” they yelled in unison.
Disney World employees were confused. These men were both about 55, which is not at all too old to have fun, but it definitely was a strange duo for the Florida theme park. They shared many laughs with Minnie Mouse, and she pretended to kiss them both, which they found adorable.
“She’s really quite exquisite” Jacque said.
Julius agreed. “That girl is a hoot!”
That evening, Jacque took Julius out to dinner. After they finished their fifth bread basket, Jacque leaned in close.
“You know, I told my wife I’d be back in France tomorrow, but I don’t think she’d mind if I stayed here just another month or two.”
Julius gargled some water.
“I have no agenda,” he said as he sifted around for some bread crumbs. They high-fived and ordered some lasagna. Jacque was spending money by mooching off his wife, and Julius’ financial situation remained unclear. Jacque booked a new hotel room for a 45-day stay. There were two queen beds, but occasionally the pair fell asleep together because they enjoyed cuddling while watching Fox News. On the 45th day, neither one of them wanted to get out of bed. They lay together in silence for a painful but cozy seven minutes. Finally, Julius opened his big mouth.
“I don’t want to say goodbye.”
Jacque aggressively rolled around in his sheets. He was stressed to say the least.
“I’m coming to South Nebraska!
They hugged so tight, Julius had an asthma attack.
While lying in the emergency room, Julius had a big grin on his face. A nurse popped her head in the door.
“Visiting hours are over now.”
Nobody acknowledged her. And how could they? They were best buds hanging out in a hospital bed together. But the nurse persisted.
“Sir, you cannot be under the covers with a patient.”
Julius replied without hesitation. “A cuddle a day keeps the doctor away.”
The nurse supposed this was a sweet sentiment, but it was also incredibly false. She was not a big fan of her job though, so she decided to walk away and go on break.
Julius and Jacque ended up moving to West Nebraska and lived in a small home together. They never got married, mainly because Julius was asexual and Jacque’s wife had blocked him, so he was unsure of how to go about getting a divorce. In retrospect, Jacque believed she wouldn’t have blocked him had he not sent her every picture he took with Julius. But he didn’t care. Now, Jacque’s wife lives alone but sleeps around often. “With my hectic work schedule, anonymous sex gives me great joy,” she told her therapist. But she still found herself drinking alone and googling facts about Disney most Thursday nights. Jacque had always truly adored his wife, but he had never loved anyone until Julius. He occasionally found himself sexually frustrated, but by punching walls he somehow managed to let it all out that way. Julius was also pleased with their situation, but became worried about memory loss. He told Jacque the story about how he sang at a jazz club in Cairo, and Jacque told him he had told that story nine times that week. I wonder if I ever even went to Egypt, he thought. But he probably should’ve been wondering why Jacque felt the need to listen to the full story all nine times. The nurse at the emergency room soon got fired for giving a patient the wrong medication on three separate occasions. There was a pamphlet for Omaha on the hallway floor when she left, so she ended up taking her talents to East Nebraska. Minnie Mouse continued working at Disney World and hated her life.
During their four-month anniversary, Julius read Jacque a poem before bed.
“Jacky. It’s been a pleasure with you.
If I wasn’t asexual, I’d call you my boo.
You hog the sheets, you scream in your sleep, but when it comes down to it,
I love you.”
Three years later, they went to Cairo to see the grand opening of the first Disney World resort in the Middle East. Everyone at the resort spoke Arabic, so Jacque and Julius had some troubles. Jacque was stressed, but Julius didn't mind because he had always enjoyed stealing things and sneaking in places anyways.
After stealing food from three different restaurants, they made their way into the resort before quickly being chased down by security.
"I love to run!" shouted to Julius to nobody. "I feel so free!"
He felt free, but he was soon not a free man as he was locked up in prison. Jacque was in a nearby cell and diligently mastered the Arabic version of Duolingo after four months. Feeling proud of himself for this feat, once he explained his way out of prison, he bought a place in Cairo. He attended the Disney World resort seven days a week, and quickly started dating the woman inside the Minnie Mouse costume. Her name was Edrice Fadul, but he always called her Minnie. Friends and family would have told them this was strange, but unfortunately they didn't have any.
Julius enjoyed his stay in the cell. He never even thought of downloading Duolingo because he had the Blackberry Bold. He enjoyed his meals and made sure to play with his food before he ate it because he remembered his therapist tell him about the importance of play even as you age. Playing with food kept him entertained. Seven months later he died after an allergic reaction to dust mites.
“I love you.”
Abigail stared at me for too many seconds.
“I love you.”
She didn’t mean that.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
I sat down, and I looked down. Everything about me felt down.
“Reve, I just don’t know how I feel.”
I looked up, but I still felt down.
“I fall in love too easily. And I don’t want it to happen again."
“You don’t want to fall in love with me.”
Abigail moved her eyebrows around in a way I didn’t like.
“I don’t like that word.”
She nodded her head, and I looked back down. She kept talking.
“I love pancakes, I love my life, I love this weather, I love my shoes, I love The Sun Also Rises, I love kissing you, and I love you. I say that stupid word all the time, and it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
“I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I still feel it.” Not the smartest thing I could have said.
“How do you know you feel it then?”
My head was still down. I wanted to sink into the floor and be sunken away forever. But I am also an optimist, so I was still hopeful this conversation would go somewhere that I wanted it to go.
“I don’t think love is special –
“Can we stop saying that word?”
I looked up. And I looked into her eyes. People often romanticize eyes, but they’re just eyes. I did like her eyes, though.
“I care about you more than anything. Is that not love?”
Abigail wasn’t looking down or up. She was pacing around with a stern look.
“How would you define love?”
Before I could answer, she continued.
“Love doesn’t mean anything until it does.”
I must have looked confused. She went on.
“When my dad had a heart attack, I had a panic attack, and I thought I had lost him. And I was depressed because I never told him I loved him. And now I tell him ‘I love you’ every time I see him because now it means something. It doesn’t mean anything until it does. I always cared for him and felt the same as I do now, but there was no point in saying the phrase. And now there is. But I don’t tell my mom the phrase. And I feel guilty about that sometimes, but that’s the way it is.”
She took a deep breath then continued speaking.
“I don’t think I’ll ever tell the person I marry that I love them. If something happens like a heart attack, then maybe I will. Or maybe something I can’t even fathom will happen, and I will say it all the time. But for the most part, it’s a meaningless phrase.”
She paused and stood still.
“You told me love was joy.”
I was watching her eyes, so it was difficult for me to listen at the same time.
“Do you remember that? Do you remember saying that to me?”
"Well if love is joy, what’s joy?”
I squinted my eyes and watched her feet walk around the fuzzy carpet. It felt good to walk on that carpet.
I don’t think anybody knows what joy really is, but I spend some time almost every day thinking about it. This is why I despise the English language sometimes. You can’t describe anything. You can’t understand anything. Nothing really means what you want it to mean. And you can’t articulate what you want to say because everyone feels the same way. I like speaking Spanish because they have words for everything. Like the word sobremesa. It’s the word that means the conversation you have after you finish dinner, and are still seated at the table, talking. That’s a real word. That saves time. That makes sense.
But I thought a lot about what joy means, so I felt I might as well say something.
“It’s something more.”
“Something more than what, Reve? Something more than what exactly? More than happiness? More than fun?” She always has a specific intention when she raises her voice.
“Well it lasts longer than happiness. And it lasts longer than fun.”
“So it’s permanent. That’s what you’re saying. Joy is permanent. So love is permanent. So you and I are going to get married and have kids and will always be in love. That’s what you’re saying.”
“I hope so.”
Her jaw dropped, but she wasn’t amazed or anything like that. More dumbfounded than anything.
“I hope so? That’s about the worst answer you could come up with.”
I feel the need to say that we might sound drunk, but we were both sober. Abigail has never even had a sip of alcohol. But I lie about things, so she may have lied to me as well.
“Joy is laughter,” I said. Another incredibly broad, meaningless statement. “Joy is the feeling you have when you smile for no reason. It’s the feeling I get when I sit alone at home during winter, and I stare at my Christmas tree. I sit on the floor alone and stare at the tree for hours. And I smile. And it shows on my face, and I feel it in my bones. It’s also the feeling I get when I run in the street. A rush of joy comes over me when I realize how incredible it is to be alive. So I run in the street and yell, maybe sing, and I feel joy. And it’s also the feeling I get when I’m with you. When I see you smile, I have joy. But it’s weird because when I see you cry, I have the same feeling, but it doesn’t show on my face. I just hold you tight and we cry together. That’s joy.”
Abigail stopped pacing as she listened to all this. She really did listen. She came and sat down next to me, but not too close. When she started to speak, her voice sounded different. She was trying to whisper but was not successful. It just made her sound nervous.
“But does it go away?”
I didn’t speak for a few seconds, but I wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
“And yet you yelled at me yesterday morning. And you punched a hole in the wall a couple months ago because you were so mad at me for no good reason. And last Tuesday you didn’t even speak to me, and you never told me why. So how can you say you have joy?”
“I blocked it out.”
“You blocked it out.”
“Yes. I have it. Everyone has joy, which we can agree now is a synonym for love, yes?”
When we first started going out I thought “sure” was a negative word, but she taught me that it really just means yes. I still don’t believe her sometimes.
“Okay. So everyone is born with love and joy, and you can always have it and give it, but sometimes it’s really hard to do that.“
"But why is it hard?”
I didn’t have an answer. But she did, so she continued talking.
“I think it’s difficult because people want to be sad. I’d go as far to say that people seek out being depressed. I don’t even think it’s an attention thing, but that might be part of it. Just think about all the people you know who say things like ‘man, I’m gonna kill myself.’ I don’t even care that it might be insensitive. I’m not offended. Say whatever you want. But that sort of thing doesn’t make sense to me. People enjoy feeling bad. People want to be near death, they want to curl up in a ball and cry, and they want people to know about it. They want the world to know how sad their life is. But people aren’t special. I hate when people think they’re special. I hate it. When people think they’re special, they isolate themselves and live in their head and feel superior but also feel miserable, and it’s this whole cycle that doesn’t make any sense. Everybody has terrible stuff happen to them, everybody has strange thoughts, and everybody has emotions. And sure, I think you’re right, everybody has love and joy, and people just don’t want to use it. They’re afraid because of their past or because of a lack of trust or something beyond my knowledge.”
Her knowledge is vast.
“I don’t care,” she continued. I really just don’t care.”
“You do care.”
“How do you know.”
“Because you think about it.”
“I don’t care about everything I think about.”
“Really? What are the things you think about the most?”
She shifted her position. She bent her knees and put her shirt over her knees and legs like little kids do sometimes.
“I think about food pretty constantly. I think about you a lot. I think about sex. I think about my future, like, stressing about what I have to do for the day…I think about Jamie.”
“And you care about everything you just said. All of that is meaningful to you in some way or another.”
She rocked back and forth.
“I suppose so.”
Both of us looked down at the fuzzy carpet. It needed to be vacuumed, but it wasn’t gross.
We stayed quiet until Abigail spoke again.
“I don’t love Jamie.”
I looked up at Abigail looking down at the fuzzy carpet. I couldn’t think of something to say, so I didn’t say anything.
“But I don’t love you either.”
For some reason this didn’t make me mad or sad.
“I know. Even though I don’t know what it means.”
“I don’t think it matters. But I do think there’s some truth to what you said about always having love. I think it also applies to loving people. I think there’s one person you meet in your life who you truly love. And maybe you marry the person or don’t speak too much to them, and either way maybe you don’t realize it, but it’s there and it’s there with that one person.”
“That’s a pretty dumb thing to say.”
I knew she wouldn’t like hearing me say that, but she always listens, so I continued.
“Love is a choice. You can love multiple people, and love fades away sometimes, and that’s just that. But don’t tell me everybody has one person. You know that’s ridiculous. You know love is a choice.”
“Love is a choice, sure. But I don’t want to choose you just like I didn’t want to choose Jamie. I’m going to choose the one person who I truly love.”
"How will you find that guy? How do you know I’m not that guy? How do you know it’s not Jamie?"
She pulled her legs out of her shirt and stood up. She swung her hair in my face, but she didn’t mean to.
“The guy will bring me joy.” She looked at me when she said this, which I didn’t particularly like.
“Do I not bring you joy?”
“You have it, you just don’t give it.”
I wish I spoke better Spanish. I want to move to Spain. I want to live in Madrid and live in one of those beautiful houses that look like a castle. And I want to be retired and just paint. I want to paint all day, and explore the world all night. And joy will always be rushing over me and inside me and I’d be spreading it around to all the lovely people I meet. I wouldn’t have a bad day. On the last Tuesday of December, I’d walk out of my beautiful home at night to start my usual exploration. And as I’d walk past La Rosaleda, I’d see a pretty girl, painting. And I’d know she was special because I am a painter and saw that she painted, but she didn’t know I painted so she wouldn’t realize anything yet. Then I’d tap her on the left shoulder because the right side of my face is my good side, and I’d say, “Eres mi persona especial a quien amo.” And she’d have the prettiest eyes in the world and they would glimmer with the reflection of the water and she’d say, “Ya lo sé.”
You can’t run away from your problems, but you can try.
I knew this before I did it. I always knew this. But when you feel you’ve had enough, there’s nothing that can override that feeling. Some people say certain feelings of love can override it. Or maybe even some extreme feelings of hunger. But I don’t like those people.
Sunday night was one of the worst nights of my life. When I returned home that night, I went to my room to write down all of my problems. I opened my desk drawer and took out a yellow legal pad. I grabbed my blue uni-ball pen. It is advertised as the pen that doesn’t smudge. It smudges. I started writing furiously. I don’t know if the writing was fueled by anger, sadness, or something else, but I was writing faster than ever. I wrote about my compulsive lying, my control issues, and my anxieties I have about my wife. I wrote about my OCD and the things I can’t do anymore because of it. I wrote down many other problems, but I don’t want to mention those.
I wrote pages and pages until I felt I should go to sleep. But when I closed my eyes in bed, nothing changed. I was still writing my problems in my head. So I got back out of bed and started writing again. My mind was racing, and my heart was pounding. I was thinking about everything, but I couldn’t think at all. My mind went places I didn’t think it could go. I started hating people I love and loving people I hate.
I was scared, yet I wasn’t able to think why I was scared. I felt bad. That’s all I knew for sure, and I believed that it would be nice if someone stabbed me right now – THAT would override this pain. Because I didn’t think love was going to come save me out of nowhere. I had no appetite.
My thoughts continued, but the fear dwindled away. The sun was soon to rise, so I needed to start my day. I ran out of the house in a hurried manner, and I didn’t close the door. I just ran.
I picked up the pace. I ran through my neighborhood, past the oak trees, out into the street. I ran to the highway, and I started to feel the heat. I thought physical exhaustion would kill off my thoughts, but I was brutally mistaken. They just became more extreme. I didn’t feel my feet pounding on the pavement, but I felt my thoughts pounding my brain. I thought about my past feelings of love and hunger. I doubted it all. I started to believe I never had those feelings. I was never in love, I thought. And I never really felt true hunger.
It wasn’t a good feeling. I had lost the belief of my own memories. I didn’t take them seriously. Not only that, but I didn’t think they happened. I knew they didn’t happen. I knew I was never loved. I knew I was never hungry.
Still, certain memories flashed through my head. I thought about Oakley, and I thought about Chloe. I thought about Adriana. I thought about some others. It was all my imagination. That’s a sad thought to have, especially when you’re sprinting down a highway.
I think several cars almost hit me. A bright yellow truck hit me ever so slightly. The bumper hit my bum, but it really just nudged me forward. It was a push that told me to go faster. It’s one of those metaphors.
I ran down the broken white line that divides the lanes on the highway. But my OCD was no longer in control. It didn’t impede me from running all out. Neither did my thoughts. They both picked up the pace.
My body was pulled toward the green rectangle that said Travis Street Exit. I ran down the exit ramp, accelerating even more. I probably looked like a professional runner at this point. A good look for me, I think.
As I took the first left turn after coming down the ramp, I collided into a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. What a stupid car. A 185-hp 2.4L 4-cylinder engine. People should care less about cars.
I lay on the street. I didn’t writhe in pain. I didn’t writhe in anything actually. I just lay there.
My eyes were closed, but I knew I wasn’t dead. I knew I wasn’t dying. I had thought that I had been dying for the past twelve hours, and somehow this was the solution that found me.
I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what any of this means. But it felt good. It felt good to get knocked to the ground by a stupid car. I wish I had known that earlier. Then I could’ve gotten a good night sleep for once. No more anxiety, no more stress. Just run from your problems til you get hit by a car. Then, you’ll be okay.
The guy who hit me offered to get me a ride home. I said I was fine walking. As I walked home, I thought I was in some kind of space movie. I laughed hysterically the whole way. I felt like I should be crying but no tears ever came out. I would look around and breathe heavily and then burst out laughing again. People were looking at me, and that just made me laugh even harder. It was the kind of laugh when something tells your body something is funny. But the brain doesn’t get the message of what it is that’s funny. So you laugh uncontrollably, but you can’t figure out why. And the confusion just makes you laugh more because it’s so funny that you think you’re laughing for no reason.
I wanted to share the feelings I experienced running down the highway. But there was no one to share them with. I knew that. Because you are always alone.
I think everyone can come to terms with their anxieties, but you will always be fucking alone. No one can enter your head. No one will ever fully know you or understand you. It’s impossible to truly get to know somebody. I don’t like that. But instead of closing myself off even more, maybe I should share my thoughts. Maybe I should allow people to know parts of me. Or maybe I should get hit by another car.
I don’t think anyone has ever loved me. I think if someone did love me, it would be for the wrong reasons. But I’m also not sure that there are any right reasons to love someone. So I don’t have love. But I am starving.
Standing in line at Potbelly Sandwich Shop is my Friday tradition after work. This past Friday, I browsed the menu for several minutes even though I already knew what I would order. When it was time for me to order I asked, “How are you?” She didn’t answer. She knew my question was for the sole purpose of escaping silence. I was hoping she would at least compliment my dress, but she was too focused on the art of making sandwiches.
As I metaphorically twiddled my thumbs and actually scratched behind my right ear, I turned to the sound of someone walking into the shop. It was Rudy. He didn’t see me, but I bet he could feel my presence.
We were married once. Well, sort of. I don’t remember if I cheated on him, or if he cheated on me. I’m not quite sure, and I don’t really care. But I’ve missed him for quite some time.
I looked at his eyes as he looked at the potbelly pig on the wall. He looked the same, but his eyes looked different. They looked like they hadn’t seen love in a while but didn’t mind it.
The eyes moved from the pig to the menu on the wall. He scanned the menu, but I knew he wanted the roast beef. People change, but not that much. Before it was his turn to order, he looked at the people in front to size up the other hungry sandwich eaters. Finally, his precious eyes landed on me. “Hey, Syrup,” he said softly. He never liked honey.
I walked over to him but didn’t say a word. I think a worker asked me something, but I’m not sure. You shouldn’t need to ask if I want avocado on my sandwich.
We looked into each other’s eyes. It was like we recognized each other but didn’t know why. We didn’t care. Neither one of us smiled, but it felt sort of pleasant. Our faces were an inch or two apart. I thought about leaning in slightly to kiss him, but it didn’t seem right. I wanted to hold his clammy hands. I saw his hand move as if to initiate a handshake, but he knew that was wrong. We stared for a while. I wished our blinks would sync up, but we were rarely in sync. I never noticed his eyes were hazel. I always thought they were brown. I had lost the memory of the way he used to look at me, but it didn’t matter because he was looking at me right then.
Then he wrapped his arms around me, and without thinking, I wrapped my arms around him. I squeezed him tight. We rocked side to side, holding each other as if someone was desperately attempting to pull us apart. The hug felt like it lasted thirty minutes. We didn’t want to let go. We didn’t care that people were staring at us. We didn’t even care about our sandwiches getting cold. We just cared for each other. It was this weird feeling like we couldn’t leave each other because we were never actually together.
The next thing I knew, he was walking away. I don’t know how it ended, but that hug will last forever. “I’ll see ya,” he said as the door closed behind him. We won’t see each other again. He knew that. But saying goodbye didn’t feel right.
I watched him walk away. The woman next to me had tears in her eyes. “That is why life sucks,” she said.
I smiled and thought to myself, That is why life is great.
Jehovah’s witness was a disaster of a person. She was actually one of the worst witnesses the court has ever seen. Her name was Sarah. And wow, she was a dumbass.
She walked into the courtroom with a smug look on her face as if she were thinking, “Man, this place smells worse than limburger cheese.” She sat down in the witness box. A man in the jury box sneezed.
“Bless you,” Sarah said.
“Screw you, Sarah,” said the man. This was personal. They clearly shared some kind of past.
The lawyer got up from the counsel table and stood near Sarah.
“Where were you on the night of September 25th?”
“I was at the dentist.”
“We all know that dentist offices are not open during evening hours.”
“I wasn’t in his office. I was at his place, and he was just about to put his-“
“Hey! Okay. Okay. Um. Thank you.”
So the lawyer was not very good. He was really like a part time lawyer. Trials were more of a hobby. But everyone still blames Sarah for the case, mainly because she just looked annoying. She looked like the kind of person who would hang her own paintings on her wall. She looked like the kind of person who would never double knot her shoes and then act surprised when she tripped. She also looked a little like Barbra Streisand.
Things began to get weird during cross examination, when a young man named Krystof was questioned. He was asked how he knew Jehovah. He explained that the two of them were childhood friends, and they had lost touch after the sixth grade. When asked if there was a reason for them losing touch, he replied, “no.” But he sat there for a moment and then said, “well, yes.” He went on to explain that in the sixth grade, during sixth period, his sixth sense was acting up, and he developed a feeling that his friend Jehovah would become a murderer. The people in the jury looked irritated. The judge looked like he wanted to kill himself. But that’s another story.
Krystof explained that he first became suspicious of Jehovah in the lunch line. He told the jury that Jehovah would always sniff the person in front of him and smile. “Just like a murderer,” he said. The jury was confused. But then Krystof told a peculiar story. He told the jury about the time he went with Jehovah to the dentist. They got their teeth cleaned and flossed, and painfully scraped with stabbing, metal instruments. But then the dentist asked Krystof a question. He asked him how often he flossed. “Not a ton,” was his response. A vague, but probably honest answer. But when the dentist asked Jehovah the same question, Jehovah didn’t flinch. Jehovah looked the dentist directly in the eyes. “Every damn day. Twice a day.” Jehovah said this, grabbed the weird tube thing that sucks up water, and took one last suck. He threw down the sucker and walked out of the building.
Twice a day. Every damn day. What a statement. What an absurd, horrible statement. “It’s something only a murderer could say,” Krystof told the judge.
Sarah, Jehovah’s witness, was asked to come back to the witness box to be questioned one more time. She was asked simple questions at first. But when it turned to dentistry, things went off the rails. When asked how often she flossed, she told the court that she flossed every day. When reminded she was under oath she replied, “I know. I floss twice a day.” The audacity. The temerity. What a scoundrel. I bet even dentists only floss twice a week.
The man who sneezed earlier stood up. “She’s telling the truth!” he yelled.
Who is this guy?
It doesn’t matter. The judge had heard enough. And because everyone was completely dumbfounded how this witness had just admitted to flossing twice a day, they had completely forgotten that Jehovah had done the same. The judge slammed his mallet on the hardwood desk and announced that the ruling was not guilty. Jehovah was let off the hook, and Sarah was in the newspaper the next day. But Jehovah is definitely a murderer. And honestly, Sarah might be too.
Jehovah apparently left the court room as a free man and went to celebrate Easter with his family. I personally don’t care. I’m just here to describe the events that unfolded. And I don’t celebrate Easter. Because I am a Jehovah’s Witness.
©2023 Jake Schick