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The Lightest

The Lightest

​The storm had been vicious all night. The kind of storm that would make you nervous, if you owned property. Or something worth destroying. Loose branches that barely held their position gave way while the blessed and sturdy just swayed.

​My bedroom window endured intermittent onslaughts of rainfall and ardent bursts of ill content wind all throughout the night. In Denver there is no such thing as a long sustained type of weather. Rain does not fall steadily throughout the night. Wind does not blow consistently as the elevated moonlight shines on your apartment window. No. Weather comes quickly and leaves just as such, like your alcoholic father or the feeling you associate with happiness.

​Things don’t last.

​The morning came to my window with overcast gloom and impending doom. This isn’t my first day in the city that sits below the Rocky Mountains. I’m used to weird weather. I even enjoy it. The chaotic storm should have lulled me into a deep sleep. I usually sleep best on such nights. But on this night, not even the stormy weather could calm me.

​I awoke as usual; my dread got the better of my exhaustion. I knew my dreams had been intense but my heavy use of the devil’s lettuce (late night dabs always get me worse than flower) has reduced my memory to a crutch, something I use to excuse my often inexcusable behavior. These days: my short term memory is shit, my long term memory is crippling.

​Fatigued bones sat heavy in my meat bag as the alarm sung its sullen song into my room. The clock read 7:45am. My work is roughly a twenty minute drive. My shift begins at 9:00am. Showers are overrated.

​The alarm made its second assault at 8:05am. I somehow felt even more tired than twenty minutes ago. How is that possible? Facing the day seemed hopeless. I tapped snooze.

​The third alarm came at 8:15am. The extra half hour was both pointless and the sweetest thing I’ve ever known. You know the feeling you get when you set your alarm at night, full of hope, thinking of all the things you could do with your morning? Then you wake up. You’re a different person. Who was that asshole last night? How cute you were thinking you’d wake up early, how naive. You of course hit the snooze button. Whatever was planned for the morning will happen later, or not at all. Who cares? Not you. Not right now. What a feeling that is. Is there anything better than that? The feeling of giving up.

​I considered pressing snooze again. Maybe I could sleep four more minutes? Three? Should I just quit my job? Quitting sounds nice. Do I need this job? Maybe I could just be homeless. I’ve always felt I would be a really cute homeless person. In my dreams, I would wear a thick coat that said “Love” across the back of it. Maybe I could be a tourist destination. Like, “you’re going to Denver? Oh my god you gotta check out the “Love” homeless guy. He’s so cute.” That spot on the ramp from 1-25 to 6th avenue always looked like a good home. Not much foot traffic. I think my mom has a tent. Had a tent. Who would have it now? The main problem is it’s just too cold in the winters here. Maybe California?

​Or I could rob a bank? I probably wouldn’t get away with it but what a sweet death my suicide by cop would be. I can see it now; the rain of gunfire. I could think up something really cool to yell as I get lit up full of holes. Make the cops think how cool I am as they turn me to dust. Would they be the ones that clean up my messy remains, or would it be left to some poor innocent soul? First I should find that out. I would hate to make some innocent human deal with my guts. Also I should probably learn how to use a gun. Also I need to get a gun.

​The thing is, I wouldn’t say I’m suicidal. I’m more of a romantic, you know?

​A romantic with nasty breath. I thought about my box of mints sitting loudly on my bedroom desk. It made me feel safe.

​A soft and furry presence stirred against my butt, bringing me back to the present. Warmth and love. His collar rattles as he shakes off the night and crawls up the bed. His licks are rough and tickled my face. He’s always so happy to see me, like he didn’t sleep safely nestled against my butt all night. Only him. Maybe I can do today.

​I stumbled to the bathroom and tried to wipe the dirt and woebegone from my eyes. They are very red. I need to smoke. I ran a few fingers through my hair, slipped into my khaki pants and put on a black ill fitting polo. It is far too big. I look ridiculous. The polo reads: Habanero’s.

​There is a little Habanero pepper on it. It looks ridiculous.

​He stood at my feet in my bathroom as I dressed. He always does. I think he is protecting me. He is the best. Perfection in a black coat.

​I walked into the living room to see they were already awake. “Not now, babe,” Colby said. “I’m lighting these fuckers up.”

​She sat quietly next to him on the black, cloth covered couch. She knows the deal. A smile grew on her face when she saw me. “Morning,” she said, behind clever eyes.

​“Morning.”

​She silently reached out to the table where Colby’s bong sat large and dirty on the cluttered, round glass living room table. It’s an expensive piece but is so caked with resin that you can barely tell that it’s green anymore. Colby has affectionately named it: The Green Monster.

​At a glance, you can tell the living room belongs to two men. It does not look like something that was planned. There is no design scheme going on. Things do not fit or flow. There’s a few band posters, my two favorites are The AJJ poster and the Neutral Milk Hotel poster. Both are a little bent and ripped on the ends, making it obvious they came from my childhood bedroom. For some inexplicable reason there is a poster of Carmelo Anthony from his early career with the Nuggets. This belongs to Colby. It exists for one specific reason: so he can talk about himself. He played basketball in high school. He was going to play in college but hurt his knee. He enjoys bringing it up. The poster does not look good. It does not belong in the living room of any adult.

​Above the television is a tapestry of Shiva. While neither of us are Buddhist, we are both clique white dudes that smoke weed, trip mushrooms and did yoga one time. As I said, the design is just an assortment of nonsense bullshit, similar to my life.

​Like all apartments, the walls came beige. It has that nice boxy look that comes standard in all apartments across the country. It has the ridiculous price tag that comes standard as well, despite everything being egregiously cheap. The sliding accordion doors that conceal the washer and dryer fall off the track every day. Every single day. There is no air conditioning. There is no overhead lighting. The towel rack in my bathroom has come unhinged four times in the last five months. The walls are so thin I have developed an intimate understanding of my next door neighbors. (I wish Jeremy would stop coming home drunk, he’s nothing but trouble after a few drinks. Alexia deserves better.)

​The one cool thing about my apartment is the shelving built into the living room wall. It indents into the beige drywall next to the sliding glass doors to the balcony like a cave in a rocky mountainside and makes for quite the cute little bookshelf. When I first moved in Colby was using it to store his video games. This being obviously unacceptable, we decided to turn it into the distinguished bookshelf it deserved to be. We could each get one of the two wide shelves. My shelf has all my favorites, fiction like; Big Sur, Cat’s Cradle and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I have all my history books I used to care about too like; A People’s History of the United States and Open Veins of Latin America. I also have the full Hunger Games series and if you tell anyone I swear to god I’ll kill myself.

​Colby’s shelf has a copy of IT he’s never read, a biography on Michael Jordan (still alive) and 37 copies of Sports Illustrated. I’ve counted. Many of them are the swimsuit additions.

​“Fucking fuck,” he yelled into his head set. “The fuck did he come from?” He threw his controller across the room and pounded his fists against the couch, full body tightly flexed. He is a very talented temper tantrum thrower. (Would have gone pro if not for the hurt knee)

​My lanky douche of a roommate treats all his nice things like shit. He’s a trust fund baby that grew up getting everything he wanted. I like to think of him as an energy drink; over priced, weirdly popular, covered in tacky logos, and always somehow ends up in the lap of a beautiful women. The way of things.

​I would say that he doesn’t live in reality, but he does. I would say that he will one day have to grow out of this childish behaviour or the world will eat him alive. But it won’t. He’s fine. He will always be fine. His family has money.

​Dreams of the day I don’t wake up every morning to his unemployed ass surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew in the living room dance in my head on a daily basis, but he gives me a good deal on the room. I’ve known him since high school. And I can’t afford to leave. Not on my income.

​Colby looked over to her with indignation after he finished his tantrum. “Babe,” he said looking at his controller he threw across the room. He can’t believe she hasn’t retrieved it yet.

​The reason she stays with him I don’t know. Actually, yes I do. Of course I do. The way of things.

​“Loading a bowlski?” He asks me.

​“Quick one. I’m late.”

​Zyquira sat back down next to me with the controller in her smooth dark hand. Her skin seemed to glimmer in dull overhead lamp light. How does she do that? Is it something she does, or is that natural? A moisturizer perhaps? ​Her complexion makes me think her heritage is from a Caribbean island. Like Haiti or Jamaica. I mean she’s black, but I get the feeling it’s South American/ islander black, you know? I have literally nothing to back this claim however and would surely sound like an idiot if I brought it up. Also a racist. I mean I may not sound racist, I just get so uncomfortable talking about race, especially with people of color that I fear I would. It gives me stomach aches. As a white boy I have absolutely no idea how to approach the subject. Am I even allowed to? The whole thing makes me feel like such a fucking dumbass I avoid the race topic at all costs.

​I do have lots of questions, however. And at the risk of sounding like a cheeseball dumbass, I think she looks like a princess. Wait, wait, let me explain; like, if Michael Bay made a god awful movie about the Europeans storming some fertile area in Africa or Latin America, and the indigenous suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war they were both unprepared for, and unwilling to be involved in (like every war indigenous people have ever found themselves in with Europeans), the movie would have a princess, of course. She would be perfection. Far too pretty to be a living person. She would somehow get intertwined with some handsome white boy protagonist with a strong jawline and the two of them would somehow overcome the odds, be richer for the experience and live happily ever after. It would be terrible. Zyquira does look like the princess though.

​“Are you doing anything fun after work?” She asked.

​My eyes briefly meet hers then fall back to my busy hands. I can’t look directly into her eyes for too long. I fear she’ll find me out.

​“I am actually,” I say, packing the last bit of the nug into The Green Monster.

​“And that is…”

​I picked up the bong and set it in my lap. The way she asked me had a little inflection at the end. Almost like she might want to join. I didn’t want to tell her. I wanted to lie. I wanted to say something impressive, like I’m going to feed the homeless, or practice hip hop dancing at an underground club. (impressive?) But maybe if I tell the truth, she’ll be jealous, which would be nice.

​Before I have the chance to make a decision, Colby decides for me, “He’s gonna get his dick wet,” he said, reaching over her to grab the bong.

​“Fuck off. Let me hit it first.”

​“Who’s the lucky lady?” Zyquira asks.

​I can’t tell if she sounds jealous. What does jealousy sound like?

​“Some slut from tinder,” Colby said, grabbing the bong. This time successfully.

​I quickly blew out my hit to defend myself, but the first hit of the day always gets me and I began coughing from deep in my chest.

​“Bells gets them tinder bitches.” Colby took a slow, deliberate bong rip, let it out gracefully and continued. (All while I died slowly from coughing and wept desperate tears from my increasingly red eyes.) “Once you blow your load you should come have drinks with Zy and I.”

​“Ya,” she said. “We’re going to drink and watch Colby get aggro playing Xbox.”

​Once I was finally able to get my coughing under control I wiped the tears from my eyes and said, “It’s not tinder, It’s bumble. Which is better. And it’s just a date,” I tried to think of something to say to distance myself from Colby’s comments. “She seems nice.”

​Colby muttered something about me being “a dog” as Zy blew out a thick cloud of smoke. Her eyes looked distant. What’s she thinking?

​“I’m not a dog,” I said. “I am a human man.”

​She smiled with her mouth, not her eyes.

​Colby said something stupid.

​“And I don’t get them tinder bitches. I don’t even have a tinder anymore,” I tried to make my face look kind and deep. “I really just,” I peaked out the corner of my eyes, she still wasn’t looking at me. “I don’t know.”

***

​The clock read 8:42am. I will be late to work. Next to me on the couch, Huck sat in devastating perfection. His eyes full of devotion and his little pink tongue hung out like the first twenty minutes of our day had exhausted all seven pounds of him to no end. In the light I could see the signs that his coat was beginning to turn gray. With the natural black of his fur, he was developing a venerable salt and pepper look like an aging celebrity. He just had his sixth birthday but I don’t like thinking about it. It seems impossible. How has it been six years? They say yorkiepoos live twelve to fifteen years but any concept that he will die one day is fucking unacceptable. I fear we will have similar expiration dates.

​I dropped some food in his bowl and whispered in his ear about how he’s the only organism in the world, just him. Then I surreptitiously snuck out the door while he ate his breakfast. I hate the look in his eyes when I leave.

​When I tell people I drive a Subaru they usually expect me to pull up in a good looking vehicle. Something sporty that looks fast. I do not. It’s a Forrester from the late 90’s (I don’t know what year) and looks like the car your grandmother sold for something more modern. She did. I am the person she sold it to.

​It’s reliable though and I like to pretend I’m an undercover billionaire when I drive it. Like, “if you only knew.” But you do. There is nothing else to know. This is all the things.

​As I begin down the road all I can think about is Zy. How did I come off? Did I seem like a douche? Why is Colby awful? What does it say about me that he is my best friend? Does he even listen to me? It hurts to think that she thinks of me as some player. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. It also hurts me to think that she thinks of me as not some player. Or maybe more precisely, someone incapable of playing.

​When quarantine began in March I figured some solitude would be nice. The store would shut down and I could hide for a while with Huck and my garden. I could catch up on some reading and get disgustingly stoned in my room and draw pictures that I’ll never show anyone.

​But apparently I was essential.

​I still had to go to work. I still had to do all the things I hated, and all my social outlets were gone. The coronavirus is terrible and I feel horrible for all the people in the hospital on ventilators. What hell. And I don’t mean to make a tragedy and global pandemic about myself. It’s just that I became so lonely. Worse than before. I wasn’t sure I existed. Zy and Colby had temporarily broken up for the 47th time and he just hid in his room. Even when he was around, I felt lonely. More even.

​Sometimes I would go to the coffee shop drive through just to confirm to myself that I existed. Hear another person speak to me. When I worked people would speak to me, but not like I existed. Not like a person.

​I went through several months of quarantine like this. My loneliness laid eggs and multiplied in my chest like a rodent infestation. Once I truly acknowledged the ache, (I had always known the fact that I will never approach a girl in the wild, even if there’s a gun to my head. But there no longer being a wild made it worse.) I decided to try the dating app thing.

​Not seriously of course because I’m too cool for a dating app. A little ironic jaunt into the world of bad bios and sad swiping might make for a good story I thought. Also maybe someone will call me handsome and show me I’m worthy of love. That would be nice.

​I didn’t really know where to start but everyone talks about Tinder so I figured that was the most popular. I spent hours meticulously selecting the proper pictures of myself that would cultivate the image I was looking to project. It’s a brand. Everything is about brand.

​(In case you don’t know what a brand is, it’s the abstract concept that means absolutely nothing. It’s made up of everything and nothing and makes you feel something or think something or something like that. It’s really important.)

​With some help from Colby who is sadly a dating app expert (I worry he is still a heavy user even while dating Zy) and a few (so many) online articles about the best way to build a profile, I created the vessel for my eventual embarrassment.

​Guys who have a lot of shirtless pictures on their profile project “just trying to fuck” vibes, so not that. Also I am really insecure about my body. Guys who have nothing but selfies look like they have no friends. Also it’s pathetic. The ultimate selfie is the gym selfie. This projects “I am meat that is looking for meat.”

​Guys who lead with the picture of them holding a presumably freshly caught fish by the water with grin under their sunburnt cheeks look like rednecks and bumpkins. Also it’s the male equivalent of a basic bitch (which is also called basic bitch). Also I’ve never caught a fish. There’s of course the classic picture dudes have leaning on their car or truck. And who can forget the “I am outside doing an activity and pretending not to pose because I just look like this” picture.

​I must stay away from all these cliques. Except the one where you’re pretending to read a book. That one is okay. I want to project that I am smart and artsy and cultured and cool and humble. Also I need to hide that I hate myself.

​It’s funny because there’s this unspoken rule that if you have a defect, it needs to be disclosed in one of your pictures. Like if you’re five foot four, one picture needs to be next to your normal sized friends showing your short. If you’re missing a hand or have a lazy eye, you have to show it in a picture. It’s not like you don’t deserve love or won’t find it because of this, it just needs to be disclosed. This is the rule.

​So how do you disclose that you are a mentally and emotionally broken person in a picture? Maybe one of me crying?

​The bio is also a challenge because there is nothing interesting about me. Do I write about what I’m looking for in a companion? Probably not because that is sad and I’m not a fifty year old man who just finalized his second divorce. Do I write about my favorite books and topics that interest me? That would make me look pretentious and boring. Which I am not. Or at least don’t want to reveal too quickly. Do I write something creative? Yes, however I don’t trust my ability to do such a thing. I would try but I figure I should wait to embarrass myself until a girl actually talks to me.

​I could write about my job so women know that I’m both broke and uneducated? Actually only one of those is true. I’m absolutely drowning in student debt, I’ll have you know. Everyone said a history degree was stupid. I’ll show them, I thought.

​I am not showing them.

​I decided to write about the only two things that make this cold rock rotating around a star made of heat and impending destruction worth living, for me: Huck and my garden.

​I watched a movie a while back called Adaptation, which is about orchid flowers, kind of. I became obsessed. Their beauty, how challenging it is for them to grow, how sensitive they are to the conditions around them. Now in the movie they are talking about the ghost orchid, but I am not a rich man and have no ability to obtain such a rare commodity. So regular orchids would have to do.

​The idea of a flower that was so hard to grow, yet so popular. Something that needed constant care. Something that needed just the right conditions or else it would shrivel up and die. Yet, so many people take the time needed to care for this high maintenance plant.

​I felt the orchid in my bones. If humans are too much trouble they are thrown out. Doomed to live out their days in tents on busy city streets, hiding behind their cultivated crazy like a shield. If you date someone or are friends with someone who’s constantly struggling, that person is often deemed a downer, or more work than they’re worth.

​But some of us do. Some of us are constantly struggling. Some of us need just the right environment or we shrivel up. Yet we are blamed, instead of the environment in which we are unable to thrive.

​Well I would show those orchids that they were worthy of love. I would give it to them. No matter how much effort. I would love those fucking things until I had nothing left.​

​The balcony to our apartment gets great sunlight. I bought a six foot long “above ground garden bed” and planted three orchids. To my horror, regular orchids grow pretty easily and aren’t much work to keep alive. Perhaps they weren’t quite my kin but I cared for them nonetheless. It didn’t matter. Just because they were a little more resilient than I was led to believe didn’t mean anything.

​Then something curious happened. Something I didn’t understand. I read that a big problem with orchids is how long their roots get so I made sure to properly space them out. Give them the safest of spaces.

​One morning as I was watering them, I noticed something peeking through. I thought it looked yellow. I figured it was just roots and went about my business. The next time I went out to water the triplets (what I call my orchids because they are my babies and my pride and joy) and I found the yellow root had grown. But it wasn’t a root. It was a dandelion.

​Dandelion is like the herpes of flowers. They can and will pop up anywhere and everywhere. (I feel it important at this point to state I do not have herpes.) Here I am trying to create a garden that needs lots of attention and care and the weed that grows in between concrete blocks found its way in. And how? This is not a garden in the ground, it’s on a cheap piece of furniture from Ikea for fucks sake. How did this little yellow virus find its way into my soil?

​He must be pulled. It’s the only thing to do. I went to pluck the intruder out of the soil in which he didn’t belong, but something stopped me. I just couldn’t bring myself to pull him out. I mean look at him. The resilient little fella. He overcame all odds to find his home and who was I to say he didn’t belong.

​As the weeks passed the dandelions multiplied. My orchid garden became a dandelion garden with a few orchids inexplicably living with them. Reverse gentrification.

​There was something beautiful about it. Something so fragile and something so determined to live no matter what, living harmoniously. And I admire that about the dandelion; it’s determination to live. Perhaps it would feel different if it worked with the public. Or had a brain so full of opinions. But I digress.

​I love my garden. I love the orchids and dandelion the same. Despite their differences.

​So I wrote a bio about my garden. Short and sweet about what I learned about life. And I wrote the simple truth of Huck; that he is the only example of perfection I’ve ever known. ​

​You may be thinking “how cute. I’m sure the matches from impressed women came flooding in.”

​You are not correct.

​I found that a match would come in sporadically, and when it did I was usually disappointed. I swiped right on her? And they never wrote me. At least not first. I could always tell when they had no bio and only one picture that they were a bot. Lots of my matches were bots. Also a lot of swinging couples looking for a third, a playmate, which is honestly my worst nightmare.

​But when I got a good match that seemed like a real human and a singular human, I wrote them. I would go into their profile and do my best to write something witty and specific to them that I learned from their bio. I wasn’t going to be the “hey what’s up?” guy. Not me. I’m special. And a romantic. (And I need that to be true.)

​I thought I would be met with animated conversation from women tired of guys saying nothing and asking for pictures of their tits. “Oh my god you’re so refreshing. The way you talk. You’re so genuine. And smart. And funny. Not like other guys.”

​This is not what happened at all. All the messages I got back made me feel like I was bothering them. Like they were waiting for me to do something impressive. They didn’t want to ask questions about who I am. They wanted me to dance. I hate dancing.

​Maybe they did want me to ask for a picture of their tits?

​To be fair though I may have a narrow perspective of Tinder. I only made it a week. On the seventh day I was talking to a girl I had matched the night before and she wrote me the next morning to continue the conversation. I figured this to be a good sign. We were talking about books and I asked her what she was reading. We were texting while I was at work and I had to hide from my manager and customers every time I replied.

​She told me she was reading a book I had never heard of. Naturally, as any human would do, I asked what it was about. Her reply was: “Google it.”

​Just like that. With a period. Like ya I could fucking “google it” but the point is to make conversation and let you know I care about things that interest you.

​This was too much and instead of responding I immediately deleted my account and removed the app from my phone. I had no choice.

​I tried thinking about it from a female perspective. What would it be like to be on these dating apps as a woman? For one I’m sure they get more matches than I do. So much more. I bet their inbox is continuously flooded. And from this perspective it makes sense why they don’t write first. I’m sure their inbox is consistently spilling with the same type of message written by the same type of guy with the same looking pictures. It’s probably exhausting. Which makes more sense why they always sounded annoyed and waiting for me to say something impressive. Why they wanted me to dance.

​We are all drowning in a sea of options.

​With these revelations I decided to try a new app. Bumble is basically the same thing as Tinder but once you match, the girl has to write first. It can’t be the guy. And she has 24 hours to write you or the match expires.

​This seemed perfect. Also I read that girls on Bumble were more likely to be looking for a relationship. This was good because the idea of casual sex with a stranger is the most terrifying thing I could imagine. Doing something that intimate with a total stranger that will leave after and may never talk to you again? It’s a no for me.

​I did this once and I seriously think I broke myself somewhere deep. I can’t go through another month like that. The cry headaches. Oh, the cry headaches.

​So I copied my bio from TInder and used a different first picture and started swiping. Much like all things in life, when you think something is going to be better and different; it is not. It’s the same. The way of things.

​Bumble even had some of the same girls I’d seen on Tinder. I got some decent matches but for the most part I would watch the clock on these matches tick and expire away with no message.

​The app has one really fun and pathetic feature that the guy can extend the match and extra 24 hours and give the girl more time to write you before she disappears into the void. This is fun because you can humiliate yourself and watch the girl still not write you two straight days. Because here is a little secret; she wasn’t too busy to send you a message. She didn’t forget, or not see that you two matched. She saw you (me), examined, determined you (me) as a mistake of the thumb and did not write on purpose. People make time if they want to.

​Three weeks passed. I had a few decent conversations but nothing that was worth noting. I came to realize that while on Bumble women had to make the first move, this did not stop the overall tone of conversations. I expected them to write me something personalized, something about me; my bio or one of my pictures. Instead, most messages were something to the effect of: “Here is your chance. Say something to impress me.” It was like Tinder all over again but with gatekeepers. They still wanted me to dance.

​And with full knowledge of my lack of ability to dance, I danced away, as my head whispered loudly of how stupid I looked. And as I danced, I realized that these dating apps had a truth I’ve found consistent throughout every facet of my life; the harder you try, the more you fail. And fail I did.

​Again, I don’t blame the women for how they filtered dudes. It makes sense. But, again, I am too sensitive for this. Maybe for dating apps as a whole. Or maybe just dating in general. And living. I might be just too sensitive to be alive. It feels like probably that. Yet, my heart just keeps on beating.

​It became abundantly clear that the time had come to stamp this adventure into dating apps as a failure and delete Bumble. My soul could take no more. Then I matched with Lana. At first she struck me as a girl that would never write me (far too large of a demographic). I clicked into her profile and looked at her first picture. She had blonde hair, green eyes, a lean build and this big smile that made my spine tingle. She had the kind of big smile that showed her bottom teeth and made it look like she had a secret.

​Past that she seemed as basic as possible. The picture was of her hiking with her dog. The dog was a golden retriever that was clearly such a good boy and I wanted to meet him. But I doubted I would. Her bio was just a quote by Michael Scott from The Office, This was as basic as you could get. I almost thought she might be a bot.

​Her second picture was with a big group of friends at some bar downtown and I had absolutely no idea which one she was. The third picture was of her fishing. The fourth was her hiking again. Maybe a different mountain. Maybe not.

​The fifth picture however, was a different story. Lana was standing in front of the capitol building in Denver wearing all black and a mask with a fist on it. I knew that fist. That was a solidarity fist. She was holding up a sign that said:

​BLACK LIVES MATTER.

​She was at the protest. This changed things. I now realized I loved her.

​Her first message came to me after dinner. I had just eaten some spinach that was a little soggy and my stomach began to claw and roar at me. He sounded like a baby lion trying to find his deep voice. I was lying on my bed in the fetal position.

​Her message asked me how old my dog was. She said he was cute. She had clearly read my bio and asked a specific question. So I did the same. I asked about her golden retriever. We went back and forth all night until just before 10:00 pm. She stopped responding. I read through everything I had wrote and worried all my questions were stupid and nothing I said was clever or interesting. She gave up on me.

​I never double text. I just don’t. I already sent a text, If she wanted to reply, she would. With that being said I began devising something I would write her the next morning to show I am cooler and more interesting than it seemed the night before. It didn’t matter. I woke up to a message. It wasn’t long. It had no words. Just ten characters; a phone number.

​We started texting all the time. Sometimes we talked about deep meaningful subjects; politics, the future, our dreams, fears. Sometimes we talked about what we had for lunch, and the possible cause of our headache.

​Sure, she may have seemed to be a little ordinary in her profile, there was something about her though, something intangible. Maybe it’s just that she listened to me. And remembered things. There is nothing better than the person you’re talking to remembering things you’ve said. She made me feel like I existed. That was nice.

​She was going out of town the weekend after we started talking, the next weekend we would meet for coffee. I was excited. And nervous. Very nervous. The day came we were supposed to meet, and at the last second something came up with her best friend. We rescheduled.

​That was July. It is now September. We have not stopped talking consistently, for the most part. And after four reschedules, tonight is finally the night. Tonight, I have a date.

***

​Something made a vibration shoot through my arms. I looked down to see, to my surprise, that I was driving my car. My mind had been so deep inside itself about my date tonight I had forgotten. It can be a scary thought that your subconscious was handling a two thousand pound ball of steel and death hurtling down the road on its own.

​The pavement in front of me showed no cars for a hundred feet or so and with a squint of my eyes, I spotted a small little ball of fur twitching in the road. It was a bunny. Colorado is overrun with the ubiquitous little creatures. When you’ve lived here a while you don’t really notice them anymore, they grow a part of the landscape like grass or trees or stoned high school kids making Tik Toks. The small mammal was standing motionless in the middle of the road. I kept thinking it was going to notice my car, notice that it’s in danger and dart away. I began to yell out my rolled up window. “Move, friend! Move!” But it didn’t.

​Realizing at the last second it was going to just sit there and accept its death, I slammed on my brakes and careened off the road, almost causing multiple accidents behind me. Mud caked my tires and my suspension sang its displeasure as I came to an abrupt stop. The car directly behind me was a large truck. It appeared to be lifted. I know little of car engines, but it was the loud kind. You know that kind? A large American flag was mounted in its truck bed. He did not see the bunny.

​The little ball of fur was flattened on the street, mangled, as he honked his horn at me. Blood and guts intertwined with the fur and streaked along the road. A skid mark of death. The American flag waved majestically in the wind as the truck continued down the road. I think I heard country music; something about America.

​The macabre sight was too much for me and I felt hot tears begin swelling up in my eyes. I fought them with everything I had. I didn’t want to cry. It’s so embarrassing. It’s just a bunny. Who cries at the death of a bunny? They’re overpopulated anyway, one step from a rodent, I told myself. Fighting the tears just made them come harder and I felt my chest begin to pop up and down as the trickling tears turn to sobs. I gripped my steering wheel for stability. Why am I like this?

​All I could think about was why he didn’t move. Did he not know what was coming? Did he not care? Maybe he was a suicidal bunny? Being born with the adivistic instincts of living in the woods of the Rocky Mountains, then finding itself in a strange world of concrete, brick and blare. Maybe it spent its life looking around wondering what the fuck is all this?

​I think deep in all our souls we hold the truth that none of this is in line with providence. Organisms are born with a fiery passion to live. A desire to do whatever it takes to persist, and give their genes the best chance to continue on. “Life finds a way” they say. Yet some organisms lose that. Existing is hard. It just doesn’t feel right anymore. More trouble than it’s worth. There’s a romance to the end really.

​My breath tastes terrible.

​Once I was able to calm down my sobs I decided to get out of the car and say a few words about the bunny. I didn’t know him, of course. I mean how well could you ever know a bunny? I feel him though. A kinship. Like the bunny and I understood each other.

​The furry, bloody remnants of my soul’s brother are in the far right lane. I can’t stand in the middle of the street, so I positioned myself just off the side of the road for the eulogy. My beat up sneakers dug into the mud of last night’s storm. They haven’t been white for a long time. A light drizzle of rain began to drip from the sky as I spoke.

​I realize I’m being ridiculous. I just can’t help it. Sometimes I feel like I empathize more with every living creature than I do myself. I use up all my empathy and when it comes to me, I have none left. It dawned on me half way through my speech that I have gendered the bunny. I made him male. Why?

​For some reason this is all just too much and I felt the sobs begin to bubble back up from my gut and into my chest. There is no fighting the tide. So here I am; sobbing heavily on the side of the road, eulogizing a possibly suicidal rabbit that I did not know personally.

​A black Jeep filled with at least three girls my age slowed down to get a better look at me. I glanced up and to my horror saw they were laughing, hard. Presumably at me. They had all three (I think I saw a fourth in the back seat leaning over her friend) pulled out out their phones and started recording me. One yelled out “Is this real?” just as they rolled over the remnants of the bunny for whom my tears were for. I will be their morning snap story. Or instagram. But I’m guessing Snapchat. All their friends will get a good laugh. “Who is the weirdo?” they will wonder.

​This moment traps me in my shame like a bug in amber and the sobs increase. I can hear them. They are loud. The loudest part might be my gasps for breath in between. It feels like I’m suffocating. The weight of it all brings me down to my knees and eventually to my side as I lay in the mud, sobbing and holding myself. I’m going to be so late to work.

***

​The clock read 9:19am as the tires of your grandmother’s Subaru that now belongs to me pulled into the parking lot. This is too late. Kyle will not be happy.

​Before walking in I check my phone. A text from Lana says she is excited to see me tonight. My heart beats fast in my chest when I read it. I felt a slight anxious sweat begin to break out in my hands. I wiped them on my khaki pants one at a time to dry them off. The whole left side of my pants are covered in mud. So is my shirt, and my shoes.

​A second text below it asks if my cat is feeling better. I do not have a cat. I could never endure the emotional torment of such an animal. What is she talking about? I could see her accidentally saying cat instead of dog, but Huck hasn’t been sick.

​I respond telling her I’m excited too. And I say as amicably as I can, that I do not own a cat. Maybe she was asking about Huck?

​The ding of the door opening to Habanero’s is so loud it shakes my skull. I put my key back in the door and lock it behind me. We don’t open until 10am and Kyle is certainly back in his office pretending to do things. He certainly heard the ding of my late arrival. (He always does.)

​I’m opening this morning with my least favorite employee. He is loud and ignorant (the two often go together) and hell bent on proving that he is a badass and or gangster. I don’t know the distinction. He speaks often of the streets. He was born in the suburbs. A nice one too. He is one of those guys that’s big in every way imaginable. He is tall with big hands, a big face and a big belly. He walks with a limp. He had a nasty injury in his knee a year back and spent a lot of time out of work in the hospital. The knee did not heal properly and as often happens with people dealing with chronic pain in this country, he has developed a serious opiate addiction. He’s often confused. It’s hard to have empathy for someone’s struggle while also hating who they are as a person. It’s not his fault this awful injury ruined his life. He still sucks though.

​He is also named Kyle. We call him Kyle 2.

​“What up, G?” He says to me through clenched teeth. That’s me. I’m G.

​“Hey, man. Is Kyle in this office?”

​“Shit, blood.” (This means yes.)

​I walk back to his office as quickly and silently as possible. I always think that if I sneak up on him quickly it will give the illusion that I’ve been here for hours.

​Just as I suspected he’s on his computer, watching a video on YouTube. The video is anime. He is always watching anime. “What was our agreement, Bellamy?” Kyle doesn’t even turn his head as he speaks. His thinning blonde hair is spiked up with a copious amount of hair product today. He’s been doing that recently.

​I walk into his office as casual as possible, “Agreement?”

​“Agreement.”

​I look up and to the left as if I’m thinking.

​Kyle, still without looking away from the screen says, “Five minute rule. I said you can be late but never more than five minutes. You were twenty minutes late, dawg.” He seems unhappy, but he hasn’t called me the N word yet, so that’s a win.

​“Nineteen minutes!”

​He looks up and calls me the N word. I knew it was coming. He says it without the “R” which is better, I guess intention wise, but I’m pretty sure we agreed as a species that white people would stop saying that. I believe that rule applied to it with or without “R,” I believe. I wasn’t at the meeting.

​The thing is that for someone that seems to seldom have the slightest clue about his surroundings, he always knows the exact second I walk through the door.

​“I pulled up at 9:19,” I explain.

​Kyle calls me the N word again. “I can’t be havin that here. You my dawg and all, but you needtabe steppin up, ya feel me?”

​I hate him. I agree I will do better.

​Kyle looks me up and down as a frown grows on his face. “What the hell happened to you, G?”

​“Hmm?”

​He stared at the fresh mud coating the left side of my khakis and part of my polo. He squints like he can’t tell what it is. Am I injured? Am I messing with him? Is this a new style that he needs to pretend to know about? ​Kyle is an inch or two shorter than me, maybe 5’10’ or so. His thin and lanky body is exacerbated by his excessively baggy clothing. It seems nobody told him XXL isn’t his size. I’m going to shock you with this one but he is a failed rapper. Or maybe the correct term is “not yet made it.” I imagine people did not approve of his use of the N word. He, like the rest of the rebuilcan rappers in Colorado, is originally from Colorado Springs. The springs has such great hiking trails and sights, it almost makes up for it being a complete cultural wasteland. The way of things.

​You would think being someone that wanted to be black so badly, he would have political ideals that weren’t so outwardly racist. You would think.

​I realize he is still staring at me. He wants an answer to his question. ​“It was a rough morning.”

​He waits to see if I’ll say more. I do not.

***

​As I pulled the objects marked “fresh vegetables” out of the freezer, I wondered if Kyle not asking any further questions about my mud covered clothing says more about him, or me. Am I so ridiculous a person that showing up to work like this is something that is unquestioned? I fear the answer. I had gone into the bathroom and did my best to clean the mud and shame off me and was somewhat successful at the former, and completely fruitless in the latter.

​Prepping is something too mind numbing to do without weed in my system. Luckily I am a very stoned man this morning. Mental health is important, I hear. Kyle 2 and I are quick on the prep and just before I opened the doors I felt a vibration in my pocket. It’s from Lana. The first text asked if 7:30pm still works and where we’re meeting again. We never set a time or place. We just said tonight was the night. A second text said, “Oh ya, I forgot!”

​These words roll through my head. Slow at first, then quicker. Over and over. “Oh ya, I forgot. Oh ya, I forgot. Oh ya, I forgot.” They bubble in my head like water being brought to a boil. It is possible that she somehow mixed things up in her head. That her friend or coworker had a sick cat. It is possible that it is not another guy she is talking to with the sick cat. It is possible that she is not talking to many other men she met on Bumble, and maybe even other apps. It is possible. And such a pretty thought.

​I try not to be too hard on her. She is not obligated to remember every little thing about me. The thing about it though, is that I do. I remember everything we’ve talked about. I remember that she has a cat named Gary. I love that name. He is black with a tint of gray, and a white patch down his neck and belly making it look like he’s wearing a tuxedo. I remember that she went to Arizona State and sometimes lies about it because of its reputation. “I’m not just some ditzy party girl.” I remember that she loves black tie candles and thinks people who wear too much white look pretentious. And I remember that she only likes art if it’s dark; skulls, obscure eyes, upside down crosses and spine chilling sentiments. There’s no bright pinks or oranges in her art.

​Actually now that I think of it, that last one is Zy. She has such good taste in art. I don’t think Lana has a taste for such things. But the point is I remember things about her. I remember what she tells me and don’t mix it up with bullshit other women I’m talking to have said to me. Because there aren’t any other women. I talk to one person at a time. It’s a mortality thing. I want to see where this goes. Also girls aren’t exactly lining up.

​I responded that 7:30 works and we hadn’t set a place yet. I asked if she had any ideas. I know the guy usually decides. I should be more decisive. I should take control and be the man. Right? Or maybe not. Maybe that’s too much macho bullshit.

​While trying to decide if I should be more decisive or not I realize it’s been too long and I need to send a second text. What do I say to those words? Those words that keep rolling through my head; “Oh ya, I forgot.” I decided to say: No big deal. I added an emoji. The emoji is blushing. I fear this was embarrassing and also not very masculine. I felt the sobs bubble up thick in my throat like a stuck vitamin.

​Kyle came out of his office to unlock the door and give us his start of the day motivational speech:

​“Alright boys, yo, like straight up this is fin to be a good one. Straight good good. I feel it yo. And straight up, you got this. Feel me?” He waits a moment for us to respond.​

​”Straight up, blood,” Kyle 2 calls out loudly from behind his mask. “I love you!” The Kyles get along well.

​I do a little smile thing. You can not see it from behind my mask.

​“Masks and gloves tight.” Kyle has ended all his speeches this way since March. He then unlocks the door. On his way back to his office Kyle hugs Kyle 2 and they call each other their N word. Did I mention they are both white? I can’t wait for Demarcus to get here.

​It’s nice to have the start of the day to myself. I enjoy it slow. I can take time to find my feet and make sure my face looks like a human face. It’s also a good time to let the weed in my system taper off a little. I never feel very high when I’m smoking at my apartment but once I walk into work it smacks me in the face. I need time to cope.

​This morning I wasn’t so lucky. Less than five minutes after we opened, Karen pushed herself through the glass double doors like she owned the place. She dragged her heels to the counter smug like a cat about to piss on your couch and break your shit. She looked like she woke from her seventh nap of the day just to grace you with her presence, then retire back for number eight. She walked right up to the counter and pouted her lips like a middle schooler in petulant defiance.

​Kyle 2 is on register so I’m the lucky one who gets to deal with her. I wanted to ask her who hurt her? Who made her this way? I wanted to ask if this was my punishment for not saving the bunny this morning? I wanted to ask her why the fuck she wants to eat a burrito at 10 in the morning?

​“Hello, ma’am. Would you mind putting on a mask?”

​“Yes I would mind.”

​Oh god here we go. ​​

​“We have temporary masks right here if you forgot yours,” I gestured to the masks.

​“This is actually a free country.” She shook her head with attitude.

​“Yes that’s very nice, ma’am. Do you mind putting on the mask for me?”

​Karen had a look on her face like she was the smartest organism breathing. Also it was full of anger. “You can be a little sheep boy with your face diaper if you’d like to, but I’m a wolf. I’m not wearing any communist mask.”

​“Wolves are very nice, ma’am. But we could get shut down if we get caught with people not wearing masks in the building.”

​“Let me educate you, young man.” Karen looks around the room for a moment like a pastor about to deliver the sermon of the lord. “This Coronavirus doesn’t even kill as many people as the flu. This—it’s—it ain’t no Spanish flu, okay? And do you know how many people the Spanish flu killed?”

​“How many?”

​“Let me tell you—a lot. And they didn’t wear no goddamn communist Russian masks.”

​“Maybe it would have helped.”

​Karen paused with hard eyes. She looked at me like she just realized I was here. “This ain’t no communist Russia. This right here is Merica. If you want socialism, go to Venezuela, alright? Let me talk to the fucking manager.”

​“Ma’am I’d love to help you but I can’t have you talking to me like that.”​”You go fuck yourself and get the mu fuckin manager.”

​Before I walk away I give her my dead face smile. It gets a lot of practice these days. I have to knock on Kyle’s door multiple times. He still doesn’t hear me. When I walk in he is stroking his dick over his khaki pants. His hand is not in his pants though which I am grateful for. The room smells thick. It smells like body odor mingled with cucumber and shame, then Kyle sprayed Axe body spray to cover it up and instead of masking the smells, they all amalgamate into some kind of nightmare thickness that the more I think about it, I can see it. It looks like fog over a swamp.

​On his computer screen is what seems to be a Disney princess getting penetrated by a huge throbbing animated cock. It’s blue. I consider giving up.

​Kyle realizes he’s not alone and pauses the video. “Yo, dawg. A lil busy and shit my dude. What it do?”

​“There is a customer asking for you.”

​“By name?”

​“No, just looking for the manager.”

​“Does she know me?”

​I take a deep breath and stop the rolling of my eyes. “Nah, man. She just doesn’t want to wear a mask.”

​“Say I’m not here.”

​I want to tell him to let the blood drain from his cock and do his fucking job. I want to tell him that I need him and his bullshit illusion of authority out there to make this virus of a human deflate to normal size. If this bitch doesn’t put on her mask and OSHA see’s or someone records it on their phone and we get found out, we could get shut down. And that falls on me. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t sign up to be this woman’s father. She’s over twice my age. Not to mention, is it really such a big inconvenience to wear a mask in efforts to keep people safe? Is this country really that bad at working together?

​We as a country, and for the most part world, have been wearing masks since March. It is now September. How are people still not getting this? None of us like it. We’re trying to look out for each other. We’re trying to make it past this. We’re trying to survive.

​I want to tell Kyle to get up and fucking do something. He’s paid twice what I am and he does nothing. He’s an idiot. A child in big boy clothes. Just do the bare minimum. That’s all I want. Instead I just say, “Okay.” That went how I expected.

​I walk back up to the front and take in the store for a moment. Corporate calls us a restaurant but that’s nonsense. We have no waiters. We have about a dozen tables but since the pandemic you can’t sit at any of them. Everything is blocked off except the “creation line” (counter where we make the burritos) and the soda fountain. The walls are beige. There are beige pictures hanging up of beige men harvesting beige vegetables. Or maybe there is color to the vegetables. I can’t tell. It’s all beige to me. The only color in this place walks or drives by our big glass windows looking out to the parking lot. Since the pandemic there isn’t much of that either.

​That’s why I love accidentally cutting myself. How vibrantly red my blood spills. It fills my dreams.

​Karen is holding up her phone and talking into it when I return. She appears to be recording a video. When she sees me she flips the phone and says, “Here he is patriots. The communist trying to turn us into China. Where is your manager China boy?”

​“He isn’t in today, ma’am.”

​“Bullshit.”

​“Please, ma’am. I have to ask you to leave.”

​“I’m not going anywhere, China boy.”

​We go back and forth like this for what seems like ever. A line begins to form behind her by people who are making dissatisfied noises behind their masks. I eventually have to pretend to call the police. (Pretend because I would never.) Karen makes a huge speech about freedom or something. There was something about Jesus in there too I think. I was drifting in and out.

​As she leaves she takes all the straws out of their holder by the soda fountain and tosses them on the floor. She yells out “The deep state and pedophiles won’t inject me with their serum you fucking fuck fuckers!” Then she left, muttering something transphobic about men being men. I think it’s directed at me.

​Kyle 2 came over to my spot and started taking burrito orders from the line that built up behind Karen during her triad. I walked over and began picking up the straws from the ground.

***

​Vape smoke billowed from between my lips and I watched it play in the garish fluorescent light of the bathroom. The nicotine massaged my blood and leveled my heart rate. My new juice is a 12. I need it. Some of my anxiety is certainly from the pot, most of it though is just from existing. Existing makes me anxious.

​Sometimes I wonder if I spent my days differently if it would change things. If I woke up, not to an abrasive alarm designed for the very purpose of assaulting my senses into contrived consciousness, but to my own circadian rhythm. If I spent my day listening to my body. Having the time and resources to give it what it needed. If I ate when I was hungry instead of shoveling food down my throat as fast as I can during my allotted meal time. Was able to digest and enjoy my food. Sit down if my body needed it. Nap if my energy was off. If I was able to use my best energy of my day towards something I believed in. Something that fulfilled me. Made me feel whole. Rather than giving it to a corporation that views me as a permutation of numbers, expendable if I’m not in the green. If I wasn’t in a constant battle with the clock maybe I’d feel okay.

​Or maybe if I was just a different person. With a different molecular makeup. A different brain. A better one. One that rested from time to time. Didn’t constantly yell and point out my many flaws. Maybe if my brain wasn’t so mean. If my heart didn’t beat so fast and my palms didn’t sweat so much.

​Or if my brain didn’t actively fight my heart. If I wasn’t engaged in an eternal battle with myself. If my life was a shitty movie the protagonist and the antagonist would both just be me. Maybe my life is a shitty movie.

​If I could just stop being who I am as a person, maybe then existence wouldn’t feel so heavy. Maybe the air I breathe would taste a little less thick. Maybe then I could inhale and exhale without so much effort. Like a person. Like I imagine lungs are supposed to. Or maybe not. Maybe I would find things are still just hard. Maybe getting out of bed would still seem more work than it’s worth. I’m not sure.

​I probably shouldn’t smoke my vape so much in the bathroom. My current flavor is gingerbread house. It’s hard to believe it could be thought of as anything other than the smell of a vape. I probably should wait until my break. I could get into trouble. I should care about that.

​Looking into my eyes in the bathroom mirror I wonder who I’m looking at. Have I always looked like that? Do I always look so tired? When did my eyes get dark? I remember as a kid looking into the mirror and scaring myself with my eyes.

​When I opened up the bathroom door I knew he was here immediately:

​“”Oh, sweetie, huh uh. You don’t want none of that hot business. Let’s get you some of that medium verde.” The way he says “verde” puts so much emphasis on both of the “E’s” it sounds like a whole different word. He always does things like that; telling customers that they don’t want what they just ordered.

​“See now look how pretty that looks, hun? That’s what it should look like. Mmmhmm.”

​As I walked up to him our eyes met and I smiled. I didn’t want to say anything because he was still dealing with a customer.

​“Bitch where the fuck were you at?” He turned his whole body towards me and completely disengaged with the customer he was helping. “Today is the day that’s so exciting! Are you still on?”

​I felt warmth pull at the ends of my lips. “I think so.”

​“When was the last time you talked?”

​I pulled out my phone and checked the last text from Lana. “About 45 ago.”

​“Ooo shut the fuck up, belly,” Demarcus clapped as he said this. “I’ve been fucking waiting. You bad little bitch, you.”

​At this point the customer who Demarcus was in the middle of helping grew irritated and pointed at the burrito while clearing his throat.

​“Exfuckingcuse you,” Demarcus said, while holding his flat hand out at him, palm out. Then looked back to me, “Shut the fuck up. Tell me everything. Where are you taking her?”

​Honesty I have no idea how he hasn’t been fired yet. The way he talks to customers makes me want to crawl into floor boards. He has absolutely no fear. But if I’m being honest, Demarcus is the only person in this whole world that makes me feel seen these days. Well, him and Zy. It’s a little sad. He has a whole rich and fulfilling social life outside of here. He is constantly responding to people blowing up his pocket. But for me, he is the only one that actually listens. He remembers things I say and seems genuinely curious to learn more about my boring ass life. Even though his is so much more interesting.

​Demarcus is tall and muscular. He has long hair that he is always finding new ways of tying up and seems to have no regard for dress code. He is wearing skinny black ripped up jeans over tall boots today and his Habanero’s polo is under a long sleeve shirt and jacket. Only the collar is visible. I could never get away with what he does.

​“Where’s your manager?” The customer’s face had red as a cherry.

​“I am the manager, honey.”

​The customer rolled his eyes and paid for his meal. Sometimes you just have to accept the loss.

​Just before my break Kyle finally walked out of his office.

​“Yo, my nigga,” he called to Kyle 2. “My nigga I—” Kyle looked over to realize that Demarcus was here. “I—uh. My dude. My homie. I—”

​“Kyle hello, baby. What’s your mouth doing?”

​“Demarcus, I didn’t know you were in yet.”

​“Right here, child.” He winks.

​Kyle motioned a beckoning gesture to Kyle 2, then looked back and giggled nervously. “You look great today, Demarcus.” There is terror in Kyle’s eyes when he speaks to Demarcus. For a man that wants to be black so badly, he is terrified of black people.

​I can hear Kyle 2 reassuring him as they close the door to his office.

​“Nah, blood. You did great.”

​“Do you think he likes me?”

​“What’s not to like? You my nigga.”

​“Shhhh! Not so loud.”

***

​My brain tends to go into autopilot the second I walk into work. I stop listening to myself. I just say the same few things over and over and smile my dead lifeless smile. A parrot could do my job if it had opposable thumbs and no self worth. I’ve just learned It’s a depressing thing to stay present throughout my shift, so I do not.

​“That’ll be $12.62.”

​“$12.62?”

​“Yes, sir. The guacamole is extra.” I give him my corpse smile.

​The man in front of me wearing baggy jean shorts, Jesus sandals and a shirt with a bible verse on it muttered about that being bullshit and me being a fucking asshole as he handed me his credit card.

​“Would you like a bag?”

​“No I just want to carry it with my hands.”

​“Sounds good, sir. Receipt?”

​He scrunches up his face, “What are you an idiot or something?”

​“I don’t think so, sir.”

​“You must be some kind of idiot. I’m kidding. Of course I want a bag.”

​“Of course, sir. Not a problem.” I handed over the bag and slip his receipt inside.

​He pulled his mask that was already below his nose, down below his chin. “Did I say I wanted a receipt?”

​There is an ever present hum in the Habanero’s. It sounds like the harmonization of the fridge and the lonely beige walls. It’s wonderful.

​“Would you like it, sir?” I tried not to look at his lips. Why are they so thin and dry? They make me uncomfortable. Would it be weird to offer him chapstick?

​“No I don’t want the goddamn receipt.”

​My smile is nice and wide. I wondered what I want to eat for lunch. Do I want a sandwich? No, too heavy. Maybe a salad?

​The man in the shirt with the bible verse walked away muttering, “I mean honestly, how hard is your fucking job? Seriously? And these commie bastards want $15 an hour. What a fucking joke. In my day…”

​”Have a great day, sir!” I called out. “I love you.”

​Shit. I think I did it again. I’m not positive but I fear I told him I love him. Which I don’t. How could I, we just met. Why am I like this? It’s just a natural reaction to someone leaving. Which is strange because I only say that to my mother. Or I used to.

​I can feel Kyle’s hot breath on my neck. I don’t want to turn around. I know what that breath smells like. It smells like Mountain Dew and gingivitis soup fresh out the microwave.

​“Bellamy?”

​I turned around doing everything possible not to inhale. I pretended I didn’t know what he was going to say. “What’s up, man?”

​Kyle motions for me to step away from the register. “We’ve talked about this.” His face was stern with reproach. “You can’t tell customers that you love them. Alright, dawg?”

​“Sorry, Kyle.”

​“I don’t want to have to say this again. Okay, blood?”

​“Okay. I’ll work on it.”

​“I need you to say it, G.” His eyes reminded me of Bambi.

​I took in a deep breath. “I will work on not telling customers I love them.”

​“Okay, gangsta,” He reaches out and puts his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t like being the bad guy, so don’t make me my ni—” Kyle suddenly got the terror in his eyes again and looked over to Demarcus, who was staring at him. Kyle smiled like a mouse at a hungry cat. “Ninja. My ninja.”

​Kyle then walks away quickly. I can hear Kyle 2 reassuring him as they return to his office. “Good save, homie.”

​“Was it?”

​“Def. He had no idea my nigga.”

​“Shhh!”

​That’s the problem with always being on autopilot. It’s a survival technique, and it numbs the pain. But when you walk around numb you miss the things that feelings tell you. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as they say.

​I wondered to myself if the customer with the jean shorts and Jesus sandals has a Jesus fish on his car. I suspect that he does.

​Behind me Demarcus is finishined ringing up a customer. They sounded upset. They tend to be.

​“Any chips or salsa, honey?”

​The customer sighs dramatically.

​“Alright, baby girl. Let’s get you checked out.”

​The customer stayed silent and hands over his credit card. He does not seem to like being called baby girl.

​“You have a great day now, sweetie.” Demarcus said to the customers back, then turned to me. “Dumb little bitch.” He makes hard and dramatic eyes at me.

​“He seemed great.”

​“Oh yes, lovely,” he flipped his right hand. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that dick though.”

​I looked over to see if he was kidding. His eyes were distant and he seemed to be lost in thought. Probably about that guy’s dick.

***

​My day at work is the longest. My night, the only time that belongs to me, the only time I feel free, the only time my anxiety quiets down to a whisper and the sweat in my palms subsides to a point that allows me to properly grip objects (let’s not even mention shaking someone’s hand), is the shortest. The way of things. Time plays by its own rules. When I have a million things to get done and feel I’m racing against the clock, 30 minutes feels like the blink of an eye. When I am working with customers and waiting for my scheduled time to eat, smoke, or leave, 15 minutes feels like 7 hours; time drags its feet and goes limp, giggling, fully enjoying itself. Time is not only relative, it’s vengeful. A megalomaniac obsessed with how far it can push you. It personally victimizes all organisms willing to give it power.

​That’s the paradox though; despite all its power, it must be given. It has no inherent agency. If you pay no attention to time it will melt away like an ice cream cone in your busy hands.

​Time did not become such a large part of the work day until the industrial revolution. There was a man named Frederick Taylor. He was an asshole. He developed a theory to make poor factory workers more productive. Like a machine. It all revolved around the clock. That thing that keeps precise track of a construct. It’s master, of sorts. That’s why we are all so tied to the clock in the western world now; time increased efficiency. Time helped enslave the working class. Time became money. And here in the grand United States of America; money is god.

​I however don’t believe in god. Which my bank account can prove. And the construct of time is something that alludes and frustrates me to no end. It makes no sense, I don’t respect, nor understand it, and it runs my life.

​I’ve been hungry for hours. So much so that my body has become used to the hunger and now I just feel numb. But the clock, according to my schedule, says it’s lunch time.

​At the beginning of every lunch break I smoke a nice little bowl. Nothing huge. I’ve become quite sober in the last few hours and my consciousness has become far too acute for my liking. Something must be done.

​I like to drive to my lunch destination before I smoke. It helps with the anxiety, kind of. Usually I like to get my food before I smoke too. Today however, the nerves are no joke.

​Colorado, especially in the Denver metro area outside of the city is just a series of badly designed windy roads and strip malls. Habanero’s is in a strip mall based around a grocery store. Two streets over there is a strip mall based around a Target. This one has a salad place. It’s healthy and I can eat something that won’t hurt my anxiety, kind of. And maybe it will even help me feel more confident about my date tonight. Probably not. It’s a pretty thought though.

​I checked my phone to see a message from Lana. It’s hard to read. My screen is extremely cracked. Lana has suggested that we meet at a bar in “the Rino District” which is basically just a bad part of town that they threw some expensive hipster spots and luxury apartments and slapped a marketable name on. I believe the term is gentrification. There used to be a lot of homeless in that area, now there’s just a lot of cops. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to pay twenty bucks a drink. I text back:

​“That looks fun! I love Rino :)”

​And another text:

​“How is work going?!”

​I am a sellout. A fraud. A ghost colored in with washable markers.

​Lana is a server at a popular chain restaurant. You’ve heard of it. You’ve been there. It’s not very good. There are memes all over the internet about burning it down. They’re old memes. They say my generation is killing the chain restaurant business. It’s a nice little resume booster for us. I wonder if Lana remembers where I work.

​Outside the salad spot is a big sturdy looking street lamp. It’s texturally ribbed in a way that makes it look easy to scale, if one was so inclined to climb it. The top looks sturdy, like it could hold me no problem. Where would I get the rope though? I have a good one in my closet but that doesn’t help me now.

​A quick google search reveals a hardware store two miles away. It’s a small little mom and pop too. I love that. Support small business.

​I can almost feel the soft breeze on my face. It’s a cold one and my checks would be as red as my eyes always are. I can almost feel my feet dangling loose and free, not a care in the world. I could finally let go. I wonder what that feels like. Sounds nice.

​The reactions I would get from people walking out of Target with their bags full of the practical thing that provoked their trip and seven things they didn’t intend on buying. Cute little home goods, a sweater and maybe even a candle. I love candles. The way they would look at me, trying to find out if this was real or not. Was I art? I’d like to be art.

​I would be the talk of the town. Maybe even get a nice article about me on the Denver news websites: “Denver man hangs himself in Target parking lot.” I wonder if anyone would try to stop me.

​Would people be sad? I doubt Lana would be too broken up if I hung myself, but would Zy? Would she cry? Would she care? Would tears stream from those clever eyes and along those dark full cheeks. I hate to see how often Colby makes her cry. She’s so pretty when she cries though. Her dark eyes shimmer like a cartoon. Who would come to my funeral? Who would even organize it these days. It would have been my mom. Oh fuck would it be Colby?

​This would never work though. Someone would have to climb up and get me, pull me down. They would probably use a machine to get up there. Forklift? Is that what that’s called? Damn. I can just imagine the person that would have that job; cutting me down. Having to ride with me on the forklift as it lowers, slowly. That would be terrible. I would hate to do that to someone. They don’t need that.

​My mind drifted to the mint case I left sitting on my desk. I ran my tongue along my top teeth. My breath is so bad. The thing is though that I really wouldn’t say I’m suicidal, I’m more of a romantic.

​Blowing smoke from between my lips I set down my tiny car pipe I keep in the center console. It’s a perfect car pipe and I don’t want to drop it as the weed settles in my bones. My palms are very sweaty.

​Looking out of my Subaru windows I can’t tell if it’s raining or not. My windows are dirty. And the sky is so dark and gray I assume it will rain on and off all day. It’s like that sometimes. Scattered leaves that fell prematurely are swept along the asphalt by the cold wind. As the weed grips me I don’t want to leave the car. It looks cold and scary out there. I wiped my palms on my khakis. Maybe another hit will help.

***

​Strip malls are one of capitalism’s worst creations. I mean fedora’s are unforgivable and the for profit prison and healthcare systems pretty bad too but my hatred for strip malls is unparalleled. Getting out of my car I notice a group of adults waving flags and shouting. The flags are large and red with the president’s name on them in thick white letters. They have a slogan about making the country what it used to be. It’s kind of the president’s thing. This has always been an interesting concept to me. The generation before them used to pine for a simpler time too. Back before things got all fucked up. And so did the generation before that. Each generation is just a collection of people who are unhappy with existence and yearn for a past that never existed. I wonder if any past generation has been as insufferable as the baby boomers. My mother deserved to have been born to a better collective.

​I’m a hypocrite though. I yearn for the good old days too, the days when I was dust.

​This strip mall, like every other one, has a dry cleaner next to the nail salon. I went in once to try and get my comforter cleaned and the woman who owns it was mean to me. In the back of the strip mall, there is a fast food joint that sells fried chicken in many variations. This chicken place is special because it donates money to exterminate homosexuals. Also it has good sauce or something. I’m not sure. They had to rebuild the whole parking lot because of how long the line gets for their hate chicken. It’s a favorite among the religious folk.

​The rattle of deep bass shook the parking lot concrete and I felt like I was going to fall. Is it shaking the concrete? No that’s ridiculous. The bass feels strong though and I fear I might fall. I consider going to the ground on my own but think better of it.

​There is that word again. The one I can’t escape. The N word is the only thing I can hear coming from the car loud enough to be heard over the bass. I don’t need to look to know it’s a Subaru STI (much cooler Subaru than mine). I also don’t need to look to know every guy in the car is white. I hear one say something about “wishing a nigga would” loudly. The car smells like weed and wintergreen air freshener. The most suspicious of smells.

​While I hate these men I haven’t looked at and feel them to be the worst we have to offer as a species, despite also knowing I will never see them again, I want them to like me. I want them to like me badly. I want them to offer me to come smoke with them. I could tell them how high I already am in polite refusal. This would only make them want to hang out with me more. I would pretend like I don’t care and walk away. This would drive them wild with desire to be around me. Not sexually, but perhaps a little sexually in their secret heart.

​Am I taking really small steps? Maybe I should take longer steps. As I begin to do this I realize I look ridiculous. Me and my long ass steps. I look like I’m lunging through the parking lot or attempting to keep from shitting my pants. But mostly the former. I look like I should be wearing 80’s workout gear. Like what they wore back then, you know? Leg warmers maybe? What was that guy’s name with the hair? He never looked very fit. I don’t know I wasn’t alive in the 80’s. It seemed like it was a terrible time. The presidents alone.

​I shorten up my steps again and fear I’ve overcorrected, again. Now my steps are so short I appear to be inching along. What is cooler? Long or short steps? Maybe something in the middle but I’ve never been good at “the middle.”

​Smoke filled laughter comes resonating from the direction of the Subaru STI and I looked over to see the guys were looking at me. They are laughing at me, hard. Is it the steps? Am I stepping wrong? I knew the STI would be royal blue. I also knew the guys would be white. They are all dressed like they want to be black. One of them said the N word again.

​I turned around and started taking normal steps. What are normal steps though? I fear they are too long again. Am I acting cool? I fear I am not. Why are those douchebags laughing? Do they re—-

​“Bellamy!”

​I froze. Time stuck. Oh god do they know me? Please don’t know me.

​“Bellamy is that you?”

​I considered running. Maybe if I don’t move or acknowledge them they will give up? How much do they really want to talk to me anyway?

​“Bellamy, you son of a bitch how are you?”

​Wait. I recognize that voice. I slowly turned around to see that it’s not the STI douche canoes talking to me. It’s someone I used to know. He is staring at me. I need to say words. “Hey.” I started to do that thing with your voice and face that makes it seem like you are both excited and surprised to see someone. WIth the voice it’s mostly an upward inflection but with the face it’s like a furrowing of the brow, while you tighten your eyes and smile with just your mouth. Sometimes I practice in the mirror. In like a normal way though.

​“What’s up?” I said, realizing that I should attach his name to the end. The problem is I don’t remember it. What is his name? We went to school together. He was popular. More popular than me (by a lot). Honestly I knew him really well. I should remember.

​“How the hell are you, Bells?”

​“Oh, you know. Same.” Bells is a little familiar but I let it slide. “How about you?” I really should say his name. The problem is I only remember what everyone called him.

​His mouth begins moving and I can tell he is saying something pretentious. Something demonstrating his worth and how successful he is. I know this. It’s all over Facebook. He graduated from Harvard. His dad buys him endless nice things. He’s dating someone I used to know. Someone I still think about. Someone I draw in my notebook from time to time. In a totally normal way.

​“Anyway, I saw you graduated from state,” he continued. “What are you up to now?”

​I considered running again. Would he chase me? “I work at Habanero’s. I’m a burrito artist. And a damn good one.”

​This throws him off. He doesn’t know if I’m joking. I keep dead of expression.

​“That’s, you know, that’s—-”

​“Fucking awesome. I know.”

​We used to call him Jay Leno because of his chin. It may sound like an insult, but actually his chin is breathtaking. It’s strong in just the right way and makes him look like a movie star. His dirty blonde hair alway blows in the wind like he’s at a photoshoot and if you look into his soft brown eyes long enough Van Morrison starts playing. It’s terrible. All the girls loved him in school. But he chose Alissa Shamgado. Of course he did. They were like a bad movie walking down the halls. I used to melt into the floorboards when they’d walk by. The way he’d nod his head at me. The way Alissa would smile, if you could call it that. It was only with the corners of her lips, and the bottom of her eyes.

​He has a real name though, and I should use it. It’s on Facebook. I see it every time he posts. It’s funny how the brain sees what it wants to. No matter what those letters form, I just see Jay Leno. I really hope he doesn’t bring up Alissa.

​His laugh is long and uncomfortable. “That’s awesome, Bells.” He reaches out and touches my shoulder like a coach to his kid that just struck out. “Hey good for you. I’ll have to tell Alissa I saw you.”

​Fuck.

​“She’s been so stressed out with everything going on. Did you hear about the move?”

​I wonder if I had a gun if I’d have the guts to blow my brains out all over his nice button down shirt. He would probably make my blood look better than I do. He doesn’t deserve that though. Jay Leno’s a good guy.

​“No. Where are you moving?”

​“We’ve decided to spend a year in Paris. Just get away from everything and soak up the culture, you know?”

​I do not know. I nodded my head anyway.

​“It just all gets so exhausting, Bells. You know? Between the social engagements and parties. Who’s driving what, wearing what,” as he speaks he looks off into the distance at nothing. The look on his face is so pretentious I consider screaming. He is still talking about money, “Have people seen me in this designer already? Did I wear this watch last week? Is she losing her edge? Is he still stuck up on blah blah blah, you know?”

​“Not really, man.”

​There is a weird musty smell in the air and I can’t tell if it’s Jay Leno or not. Is that cologne?

​“Ya, well anyway, we’ll have to all go do something before we leave for Paris. You, me, Alissa.”

​The best thing about the pandemic is that it gives the ultimate excuse for being a hermit. For rejecting all social situations and ditching the friendish people you know. The pandemic allows you to say this magical phrase:

​“Ya, definitely, we will have to meet up…once everything calms down.” I gestured to everything.

​Jay Leno then proceeded to make sure I still have the same number. I do. This is what it’s like seeing people you used to know. There is a way of it. You make sure you still have their phone number, then say that you will contact them even though you both know you never will. Polite mutually agreed upon lies.

​We then said how nice it was to see each other and began to walk away. Parting until then next time we accidentally run into each other and have a similar, and even more awkward encounter. Except we didn’t. To my horror, we both began walking to the salad place.

​Leno looked over to me, “Are you eating here too?”

​“Oh.” I considered running. This time more seriously.

​“How fun,” Leno laughs and holds the door for me. “I love the salad place.”

​The walls of the salad place are painted green (I suspect it has something to do with the color of salad) and paintings of diverse friends eating their salad and having a good time hang throughout. All races are represented. All people are pretty. All people are smiling. The lights are bright and fluorescent. Just like in Habanero’s. Just like everywhere. It’s cold (I suspect so people don’t stay too long) and half the cold metallic looking tables are stacked up and covered to prevent them going over capacity, just in case people forgot that it’s a pandemic.

​The salad place is literally named: The Salad Place. Their slogan is: Eat Clean and Green. I find it increasingly harder not to hate everything.

​Inside the salad place only one customer is in front of us. She is yelling:

​“This is America. This is a free country. And it’s my constitutional rights to not have to wear a fucking mask if I don’t want to.”

​“Ma’am, please.” The young woman making her salad looked tired. “I just need you to wear your mask.”

​“If you communists hate it here so much, why don’t you just go to China?” Karen began waving her hands wildly. “Go to fucking China! Why don’t you go?”

​The woman took a slow deep breath and pushed her thick black hair out of her eyes. “It’s really not up to me, ma’am. I just need you to wear a mask. Or else we could get shut back down.”

​“Oh of course!” Karen’s hand gestures suggest she is becoming unhinged. “It’s never your fault. You fucking black people I swear!”

​“And there it is.” Jay Leno said, looking over his shoulder at me.

​Karen pulled out a 12 gauge shotgun and fired one into the ceiling. She began yelling incoherently about Thomas Jefferson and blowing holes into the pretty green walls. The worker ducked under the counter to take cover. I’m not normally someone who calls the cops. They never help. But maybe this is the time?

​“I feel like it’s shit like this everyday anymore,” Jay Leno said, not looking up from his phone. He appears to be mid text. “I just can’t escape shit like this.”

​I agree.

​Six cops burst through the door in full riot gear. How did they respond so quickly? I wonder. It’s been like two minutes. My answer seems to come in the form of a cape one of the officers is wearing. It’s a flag. The same one being waved and shouted about outside. It has the name of the president on it.

​Four of the cops jumped over the counter and put the worker in a chokehold. They laughed as she cried out, making snide little comments. I can’t quite see but it sounded like one of them was stabbing her in the ribs.

​“Stop resisting!” One yelled.

​The other two cops were standing on either side of Karen. The one wearing a cape was petting her head and telling her everything was going to be alright. The other was reloading her shotgun for her.

​“Thomas Jefferson,” Karen said.

​“Thomas Jefferson,” the cop in the cape whispered, stroking her hair.

​They all three walked out the door. One cop followed holding Karen’s freshly made salad. The other three dragged out the languid body of the worker.

​The badged men employed to protect this woman dropped her off right in front of the door on the cold, wet outside pavement. The rain that had started falling again and showed on her uniform as she struggled to her feet. I would ask what she is going to do now, all beaten, bruised and bleeding inside and out. I would offer to call her an ambulance, but I know better. She’s undoubtedly about to hitchhike to the hospital. The way of things these days. She should be fine though, with the price of an ambulance ride the city is full of hospital hitchhikers these days. I myself keep towels in my back seat for just such an occasion. Only the truly affluent can afford luxuries like an ambulance ride.

***

​A new worker came out of the back to make Jay and my salad. She’s young and attractive, and knows it. The whole time she makes Jay’s salad she giggles and plays with her hair. Every time he talks he pulls down his mask, rendering it completely useless. She doesn’t seem to mind though and returns every one of his cheeseball smiles. He continues to look back at me during the exchange, making awkward eye contact. Almost as if to say “we are still near each other and I still know you.” It’s terrible.

​When it’s my turn the beautiful girl turns cold. She seems irritated. Repulsed by my existence. After I asked if I could have just a small scoop of cucumber she yelled at me to pull up my mask. It’s already covering my mouth and nose. Does she want me to cover my eyes? I pulled it up further to make myself almost blind. This seems to please her. I tried making a joke about watching my weight when I asked for light balsamic dressing. She looked at me like I just asked to grab her by the pussy, then drowned my salad in balsamic dressing. It looks like a soup.

​Is it because I’m not as handsome as Jay Leno? Less charming? Do I ooze dirt and poverty while he oozes wealth? Or is it something more illusive? A reason harder to put your finger on. Maybe there’s just something inherently repulsive about me.

​I handed her my credit card and felt a buzz in my pocket. I wonder if it’s Lana. Did she say something good? Cute? Validating? I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone.

​“No phones!” The beautiful salad girl that hates me said.

​“I’m so sorry.” I hung my head in shame. This seemed to please her.

​Jay Leno was waiting for me as I finished. I’m not sure why. As we began walking out the beautiful salad girl that hates me shouted her phone number at Jay.

​Outside the door he hugged me and told me how excited he was to tell Alissa that he saw me. It’s funny because I used to love her so much. I thought she was otherworldly. Which was of course nonsense because I know what that actually looks like now. It looks like the ethereal organism that sits on my couch five times a week. It looks like Zy.

​Back in the car I put my salad on my lap and checked my phone. It is not Lana. It is however a notification from Bumble. It’s a new match, a girl named T. Nothing else, just one letter: T. She has already written me a message which I’m suspicious of. Whenever I receive an immediate message after matching with a girl, it makes me think she just writes the same thing to every match she gets to put the ball in his court. Which makes no sense why she would use Bumble then. It defeats the whole point. But I digress.

​The message reads:

​“If you were a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be?”

​This is, of course, terrible. Everything I could say is stupid. Also I feel like I’m being unfaithful to Lana. I know this is just how dating apps work, and everyone is talking to multiple people at a time. Honestly, I have a growing suspicion that Lana is talking to other men. Many many men. It still just feels inherently wrong to me though.

​I consider the possibilities; I love cookie dough Ice cream, but what does that say about me? Nothing. That’s what. Saying chocolate would of course be racist. I could find some obscure flavor, something nobody has ever heard of. Or maybe make one up? That could show my creativity. Show that I’m different. Which I am of course not. I love coffee ice cream but I worry that’s what every asshole writes her. What about mint chocolate? Would she love me if I was mint chocolate? I almost send her a message saying I would be vegan ice cream to show how progressive I am, then decide better of it. I don’t want to be the wrong kind of ice cream.

​Finally I land on the most basic of ice cream flavors; vanilla. I send her a message just stating this, and asking what she would be. My palms grow wet with perspiration. I’m excited for the follow up. She will ask my why vanilla? I will answer: because although vanilla may seem basic and uninteresting on its exterior, it’s not like the other flavors. It’s not dressing itself up in all different types of pretty names and colors; it’s honest, consistent. You know what you’re going to get. Vanilla doesn’t lie to you. It shows up. Every time. Just when you need it.

​After I send the message I put the phone back in my pocket and pull the lid off my salad. The buzz in my pocket comes so quickly and unexpectedly that it makes me jerk my salad (soup) and spill balsamic dressing all over my khaki pants. This is a devastating development to my day and I’m far too stoned and ill equipped to clean myself properly but now is not the time.

​As balsamic leaks through and begins to stain my boxer briefs, I pull out my phone. The message from T reads:

​“That’s what I would pick too! You’re so cute 🙂 Check out my only fans….if your brave enough ;)”

​She did not read the message. She doesn’t really exist. She is an ad. A person with auto messages to draw sad and lonely assholes like myself to pay money to look at her naked. I send back a message:

​“You’re**”

​If you’re going to humiliate me, the least you could do is use proper grammar.

***

​The salad is so drenched in balsamic vinegar I can’t eat it. My Subaru is acrid with the remnants. I used the thin napkin the beautiful salad girl that hates me put in the bag. It had: “GO FUCK YOURSELF” written on the napkin. An accident I’m sure.

​That did almost nothing to clean the spill so I used the plastic bag to continue the clean up. My khaki pants still look very stained. It’s noticeable. My anxiety is not good. I don’t feel like listening to music so I turn on the radio.

​With the presidential election less than two months away, the radio is a never ending parade of campaign ads with a few songs sprinkled in. The add playing right now begins with a short intro of patriotic sounding music, then the president’s voice:

​“Listen, this is the most important election in American history. Believe me, I know elections. And let me tell you the choice is clear. It’s good versus evil. Good guys against bad guys. Freedom against communism. People ask me, they say (the president says his own name) what is this election all about. Because they know, and let me tell you I don’t think there is a person in this world that knows more about it. And they know that. (The president pauses for applause, despite this being an add.) Here is a great example of what this election is all about. I know, perhaps, more than anyone else, other than maybe Hugh Hefner, who is a great friend of mine by the way and I just spoke to on the phone the other day (the president appears to have forgotten that Hugh Hefner died at the beginning of his term) and you can learn everything you need to know about this election by one thing, let me tell you. Look at my daughter. Look at Ivanka. (He pronounces her name strange.) Look at that beautiful blonde hair. Look at those long legs. Those lips. (The president goes silent for a moment and begins breathing heavily) My god, those lips. Then, listen, listen, look at sleepy Joe’s daughter. Allie I believe her name is, Annie? (The president trails off for a moment) Look at that dark hair. I mean, it’s a nice brown, and look at those blue eyes. That dark supple skin. Mmmhm. I mean, I guess sleepy Joe did something right. She’s no Ivanka though. When Ivanka was a little girl, she had the softest skin. It was like nothing you’ve ever seen. The softest skin you’ve ever seen on a girl. If she wasn’t my daughter, let me tell you. (The president takes another long pause with heavy breathing) Look at that body though. Anabelle, is that her name? I believe it’s Anabelle, sleepy Anabelle, (another breathy pause) Ooo what a body. She should have competed in my pageants. Believe me, if she had. (A pleading murmur comes from behind the scenes) Anyway, we are winning, and will continue to win. All over. And let me tell you, I’m the best with the blacks, the mexicans. Blacks love me. And Mexicans. Vote for (the president says his name) 2020. Vote for freedom. Believe me, nobody knows freedom like—“

​I turned off the radio to realize I’m crying. Not a hard cry, one of those cries you barely notice. The tears feel warm and comforting on my cheek. I rub them in, hoping to soak up their comfort.

***

​After giving up on the salad (soup) I decided to stop off at a gas station and get a bar. It had dates and nuts that gave it a slight crunch as I bit into it. The wrapping had clever marketing full of healthy buzzwords. Those always get me. I needed to eat something more than the balsamic dressing or my anxiety would surely eat me alive. More. My anxiety would surely eat me alive more. I quickly shoved it down my throat and wondered what Huck was doing. Is he okay? Does he miss me? I miss him. Is he scared? Does he think I’m gone forever? Sometimes when I’m really going through it, I like to pretend in my head I’m him. Like I’m spending my afternoon in and out of sleep, only changing my position to chase the sunlight as it creeps through the living room with the moving of the sun. Maybe get a drink of water now and then. Naps alone and safe in front of the sunlit window. That would be nice.

​Before I get out of my car I check to see if Lana has replied. She has not. I try swiping down to refresh the app. Maybe there is some kind of glitch, or delay. Maybe she sent me something cute, or urgent and I’m not able to see it because there’s an issue with the Bumble app. With all the intellect in Silicon Valley you would really think they could develop an app that wouldn’t lose important messages sent to me by a pretty girl that might make me feel not so alone.

​The app refreshes. Still no message. I spend a moment in the parking lot walking around with my phone held to the sky to be sure I have proper service. My LTE is always letting me down.

​An awful pop station plays on low inside Habanero’s. I usually tune it out but much like when you walk back into a room you were just in, only to realize it had smelled terrible the whole time and you were oblivious, the music punched me in the face as I walked through the doors. Not that it was loud, just bad.

​“That’s your problem, honey.” Demarcus was saying loudly to the middle aged man at the register. “You need a new moisturizer.”

​“Can I please just have my burrito?” The man looked tired and uncomfortable.

​“I mean you need a whole new skin care routine, but a good moisturizer would make all the difference.” Demarcus was holding the man’s burrito and receipt in one hand and making prodigious gestures with the other. “Look at those pores, baby. They’re like moon creators. Hmmhm. You gotta do something about that before it’s too late. What does your wife say?”

​I walked behind them and began putting on a new pair of latex disposable gloves.

​“Listen,” the middle aged man sounded exhausted. “Can I please just have my burrito?”

​“Oh, Bellamy, sweetie,” Demarcus leaned over his shoulder, ignoring the plea from the customer. “Kyle wants to see you in his office.”

​Of course he does. I shook my head and headed to the back. As I reached out to knock on Kyle’s closed office door I felt a buzz in my pocket. I pulled out my phone to see a message from Lana:

​“Work is boring. I hate the lunch shift. Lots of boomers. How is the office? Have you been winning at solitaire?”

​I want to say solitaire is a card game. I don’t work in an office. Maybe that’s a reference. I push down the big sad in my chest and knock on the door. There is no answer. I knock again. I can hear a stirring inside, no answer. Since I’ve been summoned, I decided it best to just open the door. First, I crack the door a bit, and peek inside.

​Poking my head through, I see Kyle sitting at his desk with his chair flipped around so the chair’s back sits against his chest, like an actor playing a teacher trying to relate to impoverished kids in a bad movie. Kyle’s shirt is pulled up so that the bottom of his ill fitting black Habanero’s polo is sitting on his shoulders. His baggy khaki pants, sagged below his ass and were showing a disturbing amount of white and red striped boxers. Even the boxers look too big on him. Behind him, Kyle 2 was sitting with outstretched arms, running his fingers along Kyle’s back.

​“It feels like a pterodactyl,” Kyle said, behind closed eyes. His pale, pimply back was scattered with red lines from Kyle 2’s finger nails.

​“No…” Kyle 2 was giddy with anticipation.

​The fluorescent light in the office seemed somehow dimmed and the air felt thick and damp. There was a smell of must and sweat and anxious heat. Quite frankly it smelled like sex. Hot, sweaty, Kyle on Kyle sex.

​“Are they words?”

​“No…” Kyle 2 let out a childlike giggle.

​“Is it a T-Rex, my nigga?”

​“No…”

​“Yo, am I close, G?

​“No…”

​“Fuck. Okay start over.”

​Kyle 2 rubbed his hands together and blew hot air on his fingertips.

​“Did you warm them up?”

​“Shit, my nigga. You know I be keeping them warm for ya.”

​“Ahhh that tickles.”

​“Should I press harder?”

​“Just a bit, yo.”

​“Is that better, dog?”

​Kyle let out a sensual moan, “Word.” Kyle moaned again, this one even deeper and more sensual as Kyle 2’s fingernails traced along his back with delicate force. I had been watching long enough to tell it was clearly some type of pickup truck (Kyle is in love with trucks).

​“Are you sure it’s not a pterodactyl, G?”

​“No…”

​“Gimme a hint though.”

​Kyle 2 made what could only be described as a giddy squeal. “It’s something you love.”

​The office went silent. The silence was deep and heavy. Terrified that Kyle was going to guess Kyle 2, I cleared my throat.

​“What the fuck!” Kyle yelled, standing up abruptly and stepping away from Kyle 2. “What are you doing, my nigga? Why you touching me all gay and shit?” Kyle said, struggling to find the arm holes in his polo.

​“Sorry, dog,” Kyle 2 looked like a wounded puppy as he spoke. Tears swelling up in his eyes.

​Why is it always closet homosexuals that are the most homophobic? I didn’t say this. Instead I said, “Hey.”

​“How long have you been there, Bellamy?”

​I clear my throat again. “Not long.”

​“We weren’t doing anything gay.”

​“Of course not.”

​Silence (except for the sof sobs of Kyle 2).

​“But if you were,” I continue. “I support it.”

​“Fuck no, nigga,” Kyle said, then peaked out the office door to make sure Demarcus didn’t hear him. Fear icy cold in his eyes. Whether it was due to the homophobia or racist vernacular I’m not sure.

​“You wanted to see me?”

​“Ya, n—homie. What are you up to tonight?”

​“Nothing much, I actually hav—”

​”Come out with us, Bells. It’s gon be fun. We’re going to The Patriot Bar.”

​“The Patriot Bar? Sounds a little..” I trailed off trying to find a diplomatic way of saying awful.

​“It’s dope, G. It’s a little ways out east but it’s gonna be straight lit. A bunch of good dudes.”

​Eastern Colorado is where the roads turn to dirt and cows out number people. It is not a place young people go.

​“I’ve got a date,” I tried not to smile. “Why don’t you ask Demarcus?”​The room grew painfully silent.

​“I don’t think it’s his scene, dawg. He’s not much of a patriot,” Kyle muttered under his breath.

​“Neither am I.”

​“Right but he’s…” Kyle trailed off.

​“What? Gay? Black?”

​The Kyles looked at each other. “Exactly, my nigga.”

***

​After the lunch rush Habanero’s becomes an insufferable ghost town. I’ll be off today before the dinner rush really gets going. This means the last part of my shift is an exercise in my ability to distract myself. Not looking at the clock is key. Cleaning is the right decision, or really any task that keeps me from remembering where I am.

​It’s funny because I would both do anything for a rush of customers, and at the same time deeply resent the very being of any bag of bones that dares push themself through the glass double doors. I want something to do. But when people walk in, I hate them.

​I work six days this week so my shift today is short to keep me from going into overtime. My shift ends at 3:45pm. The last time I looked at the clock it was 3:03 pm. I pulled out my phone with the pretense of checking the time again, despite the fact that I really just want to know if Lana has written back. Or if anyone has acknowledged my existence in any way. The clock reads 3:05pm. This seems wrong.

​The ding of the front door being opened is so loud it almost knocks me to the ground. There are two positions on the Habanero’s line: the first starts the burrito with the tortilla choice, meat, rice and beans. The second position does toppings and rings up at the register. Kyle 2 should have been working the first position while I finished my shift in the kitchen cooking meats. I don’t always do this but we’re short staffed. We are always short staffed. With Kyle 2 still playing games of the heart with Kyle in his office, that left me to do his job.

​A man with average height and an average build made his way up to me at the counter. He was dressed in an expensive looking light gray suit with a black undershirt and a black tie. His hair was curly but well kept and full of product. His face clean shaven and pale, held a contemptuous look with his upper lip in a perpetual upturn. He smelled like a department store mixed with top shelf scotch. He looked to be somewhere in his 40’s. He reminded me of the assholes I imagined Wall Street to be infested with.

​As he came closer I realized he was playing music in his pocket through some kind of speaker. It was terrible.

​“Hello, sir. How are you?”

​He clicked his tongue and ran his fingers through his curly, meticulous hair. The song he was playing was so familiar. What was it?

​I placed my gloved hands on the tortillas, “White or wheat?”

​“Do you have spinach wraps?” His voice came out like a whine.

​“No, we don’t.” I smiled with close lips.

​The average man rolled his eyes hard and let out an exasperated sound, like I was a child, and I just wasn’t getting it. “Why not?”

​“Well, I don’t really get to decide that, sir.”

​“Pity,” he rolled his eyes again. The ding of the front door came as a group of about twenty men and women, all around the age my mother would have been came through the door. “What do you decide then?”

​ “Well,” the question caught me off guard. “Nothing. Habanero’s is a corporation. I just work here.”

​The average looking man purred like a spoiled cat as the twenty men and women behind him dropped to their knees and all crowded around him on the dirty floor. One by one they began liking his expensive looking shoes. I couldn’t quite see his shoes from my position on the counter but they seemed like high top dress shoes, very shiny. One might even call them boots.

​“Wheat, my boy.”

​I don’t enjoy being called “my boy.” I pulled out a wheat tortilla.

​I asked him what rice. He told me. I asked him what beans. He told me.

​“And what meat would you like, sir?”

​He looked at me like I was three feet tall. “What meat do you think?”

​“Um, I’m not sure.”

​His laugh was supercilious and dismissive. It seemed to come solely from his nose. “Men eat pig, my boy.”

​“Okay,” I said, scooping carnitas into the burrito. I then began to pass the burrito down to Demarcus, who was currently texting and not paying attention. “Thank yo—”

​“Now just what the fuck do you think you’re doing, boy?”

​Taken aback, I raised an eyebrow at him.

​“I should think I’ll need a little more pig than that.” As he said this he kicked his left boot out, knocking one of the men licking his boot in the face.

​I pulled back the burrito and ladled about a fourth of a scoop of carnitas onto his burrito. “Sorry, sir. Is that better?”

​The average looking man just stared at me wordlessly. His eyes looked like he wanted to burn me alive. The silence hung in the air, thick and shaming. I thought it would never end. A pool of sweat began to accumulate underneath my gloves and I had to tip them over onto the ground, spilling out a heavy dose of my salty pain.

​“Is that better?” He finally repeated to me. “Let me tell you something you little pissant waste of space; while you were jerking off at home eating potato chips, I’ve been building this country. Creating jobs and wealth so this place can run. My father gave me a few small properties when I turned 18 and I’ve been building a real estate empire ever since. I make more money in a day than you’ll see in your entire life. So when you speak to me, you speak with some fucking respect you little shit. How hard is your job? Seriously? Can you actually not figure out how much fucking meat to put in my fucking burrito? How do you even tie your shoes in the morning. Do I need to come back there and help you, you fucking waste of space?”

​As he finished, the man whom he had kicked in the face stood up with a black eye beginning to materialize on the right side of his face. “Show some fucking respect,” he said to me, holding his eye.

​“Get back down there,” the average looking man snapped. “Keep licking.”

​I used the large metal spoon to knock away a very small amount of carnitas. When the customer said nothing, I passed it down to Demarcus, still on his phone.

​“Is the hot salsa hot?”

​Demarcus looked up dramatically from his phone, stared, then looked back down without a word.

​There is one constant truth about working with the public. Whenever you need time to compose yourself, it becomes busy. Without fail. Also when it’s time for you to go. Where the hell is Kyle 2? Also nobody gives a shit about you or your mental health, also that.

​Next in line was a girl about my age. Her style was goth and she had a pleasant energy about her. She was both dark and warm. Her build was extremely lean and most of the skin I could see was covered in tattoos, pretty ones too. She looked smart and artsy. Not one piece of clothing on her was a color other than black. From her long sleeve shirt to her skirt with fishnet leggings below. Even her combat boots were black.

​“Hello,” I smiled at her.

​“Hello.”

​“What can I get you today?”

​She shrugged. Her eyes filled with something that looked like pain.

​“Are you getting a burrito?”

​“I don’t know—I don’t think so.”

​“A bowl then?”

​She looked around, then attempted a smile at me, I think. It’s hard to know for sure. She’s wearing a mask. A black one with a tiny heart in the corner. “I guess,” she said.

​Not knowing what to do, I decided to try another route. “I can get whatever you’d like?” I put a slight inflection at the end making it a question and did everything I could to make my face something that said friendly.

​“Thanks,” she smiled down at her combat boots.

​“Take as much time as you’d like.” Fatigue in my bones, I reached out and grabbed the counter. I took a quick peek at my phone. The time read: 3:05 pm. How can that be? No messages.

​“Sorry,” the goth girl continued. “I don’t mean to be difficult.”

​“It’s okay.”

​“I don’t really want anything. I know I should eat, I came in here to eat, but…” she trailed off for a moment. The sound of the group of people crawling along the dirty floor and slurping up the average man’s boots sang hollow and deafening throughout the store as they all made their way out. The average looking man didn’t seem to notice his heavy tongued sycophants as we walked, kicking them in the face one by one. He was on his phone.

​“I’ll probably only take a few bites,” she giggled anxiously. “Mostly just push the food around the bowl. You know?”

​“I do.”

​“Everyone is always on my case about eating. It’s annoying. Everyone thinks they’re my mom.” She clasped her hands together while she spoke and batted her thumbs against each other. “It’s like I’m constantly on display. And the attention just closes up my throat. It’s like I don’t remember what hunger is like.” I noticed her unclasp her hands and rub them against her leggings in a familiar way. “Or, maybe I’m always hungry. I don—I’m sorry. You don’t want to know all this. I’m rambling.”

​“No, please.” I tried to find a way to complete my sentence but couldn’t.

​I wanted to tell her this was the best interaction I’d had all day. She felt like someone I knew, like I’d met her before.

​“Do you have any low calorie rice cakes?”

​I smiled out the side of my mouth in an attempt to be comforting. This was of course in vain because I’m wearing a mask. “Sadly, no.”

​“I didn’t think so, sorry.”

​“How about a veggie bowl?”

​“Okay,” she said, still forcing a smile. At least I think. Her mask moved upwards like the mouth was moving underneath. That’s the thing about fake smiling with a mask though, your eyes are the only thing people see, and your eyes don’t lie. Her eyes were not smiling. “That’ll work,” she continued. “Thanks. Sorry.”

***

​After about eleven more hours the clock finally hit 3:45pm. Kyle 2 was still nowhere to be seen. I had to finish a few things and needed him to get his ass on the line. White hot anger began to bubble in me as the clock hit 3:50pm. I went back to Kyle’s office and walked in without knocking.

​“It has to be a pterodactyl god dammit!”

​Both Kyle’s broke away from their session of intimacy. I looked at Kyle 2 with every intention of losing my composure on him but when I looked into his eyes, all I ended up saying was, “Can you go take over for me, please?”

​“Bellamy,” Kyle said, checking the time on his phone. “You need to get out of here, you’re going to go into overtime.” He looked at me with disappointed eyes.

​“Sorry, boss.”

​The whole drive home I did math in my head. The question was this; how long could I nap while still allowing myself enough time to get ready for the date? I’m late to everything in my life, not this though. I have to show her that I take this seriously, that I value her and her time.

​Walking up to the apartment door I would hear Colby loudly telling a story about how cool he is.

​“So she just keeps looking at me, right? And I’m all like ‘why is she looking at me?’ You know? It’s awkward.” Colby makes wild hand gestures with his Bud Light bottle as he speaks, spilling it in little droplets all around him. He will undoubtedly blame this mess on his girlfriend tomorrow morning. His short blonde hair was spiked up with way too much product, as usual. He was wearing a basketball jersey (exposing his skinny arms) and gray joggers.

​“Finally, this bitch walks over and is all like ‘hey, handsome, I like your hair.’ And normally I wouldn’t even engage because the bitch was a total dog.”

​Zy looks at Colby with what I can only guess was either hate or hurt. Maybe both.

​“Oh, and of course because of you, babe. You know I love you.” Colby leans in and kisses her on the forehead and continues. “So, she asks me how I get my hair to do that, right? And I tell her ‘what do you mean, girl? It just happens naturally.’ And I shit you not, babe. She looks at me like I’m some kind of god or something. So weird. It was wild.”

​The room goes silent for a moment as Colby stares pensively off into the distance. Most likely contemplating how great his hair is or some shit. The silence was broken by Zyquira, “So that’s why you forgot the limes?”

​“Hmm?”

​“The girl? That’s why you forgot the limes?”

​“Oh, ya. Sure. The limes.”

​Zy looked gorgeous tonight. She had on black sweats and a big black t-shirt. Her hair was roaming free; vibrant, natural and wild. A thick black necklace hung from her neck with a moon colored crystal at the bottom glittering almost as vibrantly as her skin in the dull overhead light of my apartment. The necklace reminded me of something a witch would wear.

​She has this way of making the most comfy and low key of outfits look like she belonged on the cover of a magazine. Her skin was glowing so hard tonight I couldn’t even look at her. Everything about her is intoxicating. Why does she stay?

​The table, in addition to the constant graveyard of Mountain Dew cans, had a few empty beer bottles and an untouched bottle of silver Tequila.The black cloth couch backs up against the wall and stares at the television, and behind is the short hallway leading to the front door. My room is in the back left corner of the apartment and so I must pass through the living room. They must see me. I must be social. It must happen. There’s no way around it. I’ve tried.

​“Babe, don’t worry we don’t need limes.”

​“Colby, I got everything else. I asked you to do one thing.”

​“Look, I fuckin—oh, shit. Look who’s home.”​

​I nodded my head. Sometimes it’s the best I’ve got.

​“How was work, bro?”

​“Okay.” I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to nap. Plus he’s been drinking. It doesn’t matter though, I don’t think they could hear me. The sound of Huck’s cries would drown out a car alarm. When I walk through the door Huck makes a noise that is like a bark, but more desperate. It’s almost human in it’s hopelessness. It sounds like he never thought I’d come home. Like I wasn’t returning after a few hours, but home after a years long voyage into some type of abyss he never thought I’d make it back from. His calls remind me of a lighthouse.

​While Tuck sings his joyous misery, his pirouettes. He does full 360 degree jump-turns. It’s like his energy gains such momentum it’s the least he can do to keep from spontaneously combusting from the sight of me. It’s nice to mean that much to another organism.

​“Were people nice today?” Her voice came out smooth and sympathetic. Her tone sounded nothing like when she was speaking to her douchebag boyfriend who is also my best friend for some reason, just moments ago.

​“Ya,” I thought for a second. I was bent down petting Huck. It was everything I could do not to lay down on the ground with him. “Well, no.”

​Her giggle sounded genuine. I did that. I made her giggle. It was like crawling into bed after a long day. “It be like that,” she said.

​My giggle felt forced and sad. “It do.”

​Her eyes didn’t leave me. They stared into mine, not forceful or abrasive. They weren’t imploring or trying to find my faults, my fears. They just saw me. Nobody ever sees me. I clawed my brain for something to say. Some reason to hear her voice again. The only thing I could think of made me have to address the person in the room I was pretending wasn’t there, “Guess who I saw today?”

​She knew I wasn’t talking to her, but she didn’t look to her boyfriend to answer. Her eyes stayed on mine.

​I think Colby asked who. Maybe not. He said something. I wasn’t listening.

​“You remember Jay Leno?”

​“Leno? You’re shittin me. Leno! How the hell is he doing?”

​“Do you remember his real name?”

​“It’s Jay Leno, bro.”

​“No no his real name.”

​“It’s Jay Leno.”

​“No, dude. People called him that because his chin. His real name isn’t Jay Leno.”

​Colby looked at me blankly. “I think it is.”

​Zyquira gave me a little smirk. It was everything. I returned it.

​“Is he still with Alissa?”

​“Who?”

​I recognized this immediately to be a mistake.

​“Alissa,” Colby finished his beer and reached for a Mountain Dew can. Is he going to drink beer and Mountain Dew back to back? What the fuck. “Remember how in love with her you were, bro?”

​“With who?”

​“Brosef, you were straight obsessed.”

​I attempted to make a face at Zy to convey this was nonsense but when I looked into her eyes the fear hit me too hard and ended up making the face at her shoes.

​“Ooo that time when her and Leno—bro I’m pretty sure that’s his real name—anyway, the time they broke up and you asked her out as she was leaving Tom Delgado’s house in the rain. And she rejected you. Remember that? What did she say? Something about you being too good of a friend or something, right? Oof. Bro you cried so hard. Like harder than I’ve ever seen a dude cry in my life,” Colby finished the Mountain Dew and reached out for his big green bong as he shook his head. “In the rain too. What a fucking sight.”

​“Mmmhm don’t think that was me.”

​“Bro that was defi—”

​“Bellamy,” she put her hand on his knee as she cut him off. “So what time is the date?”

​“Um, 7:30.”

​“You’ve got some time. Would you like to have a drink with us?”

​Colby coughed frantically as he let out the too large hit from the green monster.

​“I would, but I was thinking of taking a nap.”

​“Good idea,” Colby said. “Rest up for your long night of fucking.”

​I felt all the blood in my body rush to my cheeks. I looked anywhere but at her. “No—I—nothing like that,” I tried to keep the agony out of my voice. “I’m just, I’m just tired.” I picked Huck up into my arms.

​“I get that,” she smiled big, showing all her pretty teeth. Her left canine is a little crooked. You can only really tell when she gives her genuine smile. Or her comforting smile. I fear this one is the ladder. It’s beautiful though. My favorite tooth on a living person. “Well, we’ll be here hanging out for a while if you want to bring her over after.”

​I couldn’t tell if that was a good or a bad sign.

​“Bring home limes, bro.”

​Imagine being such a fucking loser that this is your life. Pining secretly for a girl that’s in love with the asshole on the couch demanding limes.

​“Shut up,” she smacked his leg and turned back to me. “Do you think you’ll be out late?”

​Sometimes I like to picture my life as a movie and wonder what the audience would think. What kind of a movie would my life be? I mean it’s of course depressing, but like would people relate to me? Would my character resonate? Or would the audience just limp through the story, confused what the fuck I’m doing. Confused what exactly is wrong with me. Confused why someone would ever write a story about me, and my sad little existence.

​“Maybe,” I thought for a moment. “Possibly.” I felt the awful taste in my mouth and had to fight the desire to disappear wordlessly to my room. “But, probably not.”

​When you’re young you think that things will change. Like what’s happening now is just the backstory to your character before things get good. Before you take flight, and realize how you are and achieve your potential. Too many fucking movies. Specifically superhero movies, those shallow pits of awful. Then, as time flies by and you stay put you begin to realize. For the privileged few, the rich, the well born, this may have been backstory. But for you, this is it. This is your life. The whole thing is backstory. Your potential, while limitless, will drown in the ocean of drudgery. Bills are due and you need to be up early. Your talents, passion and creativity are cute, but how much will they pay for it?

​“Babe,” Colby reached for another beer. “Grab me a snack.”

***

​So here I am again. My whole life seems to be just a serious brief interludes between these moments. My eyes are open. My bed is still warm. It feels safe here. Yet the gnawing agony of obligation persists no matter what you do to thwart it. The ever present certainty that things are happening you need to be a part of, things that you must participate in are not only existing outside your bed, they are coming soon. You need to be there. Or you’ll be a piece of shit, even more than you already are. The only thing that makes you feel okay also makes you feel like a piece of shit. Salvation and demise both live in the same house and it’s moving day.

​Everything other than going back to bed sounds awful. The duration of my nap doesn’t matter. I feel this way after two minutes or two hours. Maybe I should bail. Maybe I could come up with a really good excuse for why I can’t go on the date. We could reschedule. Maybe this would make her like me more.

​I rolled over slightly and reached for my phone. I don’t have a nightstand so I keep my phone on the far end of my bed. I unhooked it from my charger. The time read: 5:58pm. The nap was a bit longer than I expected. But still the fact that I woke from my nap at all is a win.

​Unlocking my phone I saw that I had a notification from Bumble. If I’m being honest this needed to be the case. I pretend (to myself) that I didn’t care, but Lana hadn’t written me since just after lunch and I worry she might stand me up. Also that I’m nothing more than a nuisance to her. An obligation that she attached herself to in a fit of desperate need for validation and now wanted to be rid of in any way possible.

​When I opened up the app, the notification wasn’t a message from Lana, it was something else. Something new. A match. And a message along with it. I, of course, have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I focus my attention on one girl at a time. They deserve that; my full attention. On the other hand, I, myself, am in desperate need of validation.

​Do these two driving factors act in direct opposition making me act in ways that make me hate myself? Make me struggle to look at the eyes that stare back when I look in the mirror? Yes.

​The message is from a girl named Kristina. I remember swiping right on her. I remember thinking she was the kind of girl I could see myself dating. Wholesome, smart, good hearted. I could see her working as a librarian, or a social worker.

​The message read: “Sex is a game where we both win. Wanna play?”

​Sometimes the pit of despair is so heavy in your stomach you feel like making yourself vomit. But you can’t. Despair, sadly, isn’t something you can vomit up. I’ve tried.

​As I pressed the option to “unmatch” her I contemplated my own masculinity. Is the fact that a girl wanting to have discreet sex with me then never talk to me again is something that both scares me and makes me sad something to be ashamed of? Perhaps.

​She wants to have sex with me. A human woman wants to have sex with me. Probably tonight. That’s a good thing. I should be happy. So why does it only make me sad?

​I want to envision that she will see that I “unmatched” her and it will haunt her. That it will be something she can’t get out of her head as she falls asleep tonight. I want her to remember me. Undoubtedly though she will be at the apartment of one of the other seven guys she sent that message to and won’t even notice that I unmatched her. Or even be conscious of the fact that I exist at all. Which is fair. I don’t want to make her feel bad about wanting what she wants. She has a right to that. Who am I to say how she should feel? What she should want? It’s not 1926. Women can have sex as much as they’d like. Good for them.

​Maybe the best way to kill myself would be to plan it out at the morgue. I could show up and already be in a body bag on the front steps and just slit my wrists right there. Then they could just haul me inside without too much trouble. The blood though. What a mess all that slitting of the writs business would be. Nobody should have to deal with what a bloody mess I would be.

​Maybe the overdose then. I could show up at the morgue, already deep in my overdose, and just climb into the body bag before it got too far. Sure, there would certainly be a lot of vomit, but they could hose that down a lot easier than blood. They could just drag me in and be done with it.

​I felt Huck stir against my butt. In the most adorable fashion he stretched out his front paws and made his way up the bed to lick me. He’s the best of things. I’d hate to leave him.

​Bedraggled and woebegone, I made my way to the closet. What could I wear that would make Lana like me? That would make her realize she should be more interested? Why hasn’t she texted me back? Is she coming? Did I say something wrong? Am I embarrassing myself?

​Flipping through my clothes I can’t help but wonder why I don’t own anything cool. Anything that makes me look good? Maybe I should bail on the date. It might make her like me more. Or maybe it would ruin things. Maybe things should be ruined. Maybe letting her down now would be easier than letting her down later, after she’s more emotionally attached. What shirt says “I won’t let you down?” Maybe something with buttons.

***

​Most of my shirts with buttons made me look like a fucking loser. Like a desperate man dressing up for church on Sunday, hoping to trap some too nice victim afterwards and guilt them into brunch. The problem was, the shirts without buttons did too. I decided on some jeans and a hoodie. Fuck it.

​Before I left I got down on the floor with Huck to make sure he knows that I will never love anything the way I love him. He’s a bong hit in the storm. He won’t save me from drowning, but he makes it bearable. As my lungs slowly fill with salt water, he puts a smile on my bluing lips.

​My box of breath mints sat loudly on my desk. I found myself staring at them. My room really only has two pieces of furniture; bed and desk. The rest of my room is bare. I have a few band posters to make me look cool; Modest Mouse and The Velvet Underground. Nobody sees them though. Just Huck and I.

​Walking over to my desk I ran a chilly pale finger along the outside of the box of mints. Its once shiny aluminum was scraped and bruised from its many adventures in my pocket. There is still a little remnants of the branding sticker that used to cover it before I did a bad job of peeling it off. I wish I could just throw it away. Dump its contents down the toilet and smash it with a hammer. But our relationship is abusive, and I always stay. The way of things.

​I needed to check my garden before I leave and give affirmations to the orchids. I’ll do it to the dandelions too, even though they don’t need it. The problem with that is the balcony is at the far end of the living room. I must pass through the humans. And they are getting drunker by the second.

​I walked out to Colby explaining something to Zy that he didn’t really understand. All I heard was something about “It’s basic science, babe.” I’m not proud of this but I pretended to be on the phone.

​The restaurant is in Cherry Creek which is about twenty minutes away. The clock on my dash read: 6:51pm. The anxiety in the pit of my stomach was so acute I could barely grip the steering wheel. My entire drive I alternated hands on the wheel while wiping the ocean of sweat from the other on my jeans. Maybe if I sweat out all the sweat in my body now, it will be gone by the time I get to the restaurant and I can seem like a normal person that doesn’t sweat so much. Is that how sweat works?

​My armpit situation is a nightmare. I don’t even want to think about it. Sometimes in situations like this I sneak into the bathroom and wipe my armpit with the paper towel and give it a moment to breathe. I fear we’ve come too far for that. The hoodie looks like it was actually quite the good decision as it hides the fact that I look like i just got out of a fully clothed shower meltdown session. (Not that I do that.) I shutter in fear at the thought of hugging her.

​Too nervous to listen to anything I truly enjoy, the radio played softly in the background of my endless parade of self deprecating thoughts and fantasies of failure. It seemed like every song that came on was about being in love, or being rich, or fucking lots of women, or other things that I will never understand. Why don’t they make songs about being so lonely it wakes you up at night, yet being debilitatingly terrified of meeting new people to such an egregious extreme it defies all rational? I would listen to that song. They could call it the loneliness paradox. I wonder if Shawn Mendes is available?

​The restaurant has no sign (very cool) and was lit up from the inside with lights that screamed “we are fancy.” How can lights scream fancy you ask? I don’t know. But these ones did. You would know if you saw them. The restaurant is called Real Foodz Kitchen. It’s spelled like that with a Z. It’s awful.

​The ceilings look like they’re higher than could be possible from looking at the building from the outside. Exposed piping and superfluous metal bars gave the ceiling an industrial feeling with metal fans hanging throughout, spinning furiously despite the cold temperatures outside. They are no match for my anxiety sweats.

​Like all the restaurants in the Cherry Creek area, it’s expensive and filled with rich men in overpriced clothing that doesn’t look like it would cost what it does, texting their girlfriends under the table while their wife that doesn’t love them stares off into the melancholy space between, pretending not to know, wondering how she got here, trying to stay pretty and ignorant as long as possible.

​Families sat around tables too small for them to sit comfortably with kids making a fuss about there not being chicken fingers on the menu, not yet realizing the horrors that life has in store for them, while their parents tried to reassure them about the food and simultaneously reassure themselves about the price. Young hip couples with pockets full of their parent’s money looked off bored into the crowded restaurant and wondered what they were doing here. Wondered if they were in the right relationship. Wondered why no matter what they do, where they go, how much money they spend, they always feel hollow and empty inside. Dull aches coming from a place they can’t quite find.

​Men with nothing but money sat alone at tables for two with desperate and forlorn grimaces hidden behind predatory stares, waiting to start an unsolicited conversation with anyone too nice or naive to meet their eye. Small groups of women that hate each other, dressed up and smelling pretty, were getting drunk on wine and talking about other women they hate. Getting progressively louder and trying harder and harder to be heard. Hoping to be seen.

​As I was led by the hostess dressed in all black and a collared shirt to my table, sneaking through narrow gaps between the tables and being conscious of not dragging my feet on the shiny wood floor, I thought of how strange things are. We’re in a global pandemic. With how crowded the place is. You don’t really remember until you look at the wait staff in their masks, risking their health to make enough money for food and rent. I don’t know what I thought a pandemic would look like, not this though.

​I never know if I should leave my mask on after I’m at my table or wait for my food. What does the wait staff want? I begin to ask the hostess before she walks away but am interrupted abruptly; Karen is here. Of course he is. She walked up behind the hostess and yelled “I need to speak to your manager,” as she sucker punched her in the back of the head. The punch is clearly pitiful and not enough to knock the hostess to the ground. This infuriates Karen even more. Karen took a clumsy step towards the younger women and karate chopped her in the kidneys.

​The karate chop appears to be even more pathetic than the sucker punch and is clearly not enough to drop the small hostess either. She can’t be more than 120 pounds but Karen’s blows are sluggish and lethargic like a fight between blackout drunks. The hostess isn’t stupid though. She knows the deal. Karen is like a bear. A bear with a bad haircut and spray tan. She must be placated.

​The hostess, like a pro, dropped to the ground feigning injury. She waited a moment to see if this pleased Karen. It did. She then dragged herself along the wood floor towards the kitchen. “One moment, ma’am,” she called out over her shoulder. “I’ll get the manager for you right now.”

​I was unable to ask my question. I decided to leave my mask on. Best to air on the side of caution. Looking down to my phone I was painfully aware that I had not heard from her since just after lunch. Maybe she’s just busy? Maybe she’s just been so busy all day and just didn’t have a moment to text me back? Busy busy busy. Well, actually not text me. Message me on the app. I still don’t have her phone number. Which is, of course, another bad sign. It just sucks because if she doesn’t want to meet me anymore that’s fine. I just wish she would tell me. I don’t think I can handle the embarrassment of being stood up in public like this. What do I do? Do I still eat? Do I tell the wait staff she was in an accident on the highway with a blue Subaru STI hatchback and will be needing seven stitches, maybe eight. The paramedic isn’t sure yet. Lies are always most convincing if there are lots of specifics. What hospital should she go to?

​Facing the waitstaff after being stood up just seems too much. Let alone the two people on my couch. That’ll be it for me. That’s the end. A sign. Time for the period.

***

​I decided it’s best to write her and let her know I’m here. Maybe something happened. Maybe she had something terrible happened and this will remind her to bail on me with her words. The clock now read: 7:33pm. Three minutes late is no big deal. It’s whatever. Maybe she’s just nervous to meet me. Maybe she’s cleaning sweat out of her armpits.

​Is the music always so loud in here? It seems loud. I shouldn’t check my phone. I would feel the buzz. I look like a crazy person checking my phone every thirty seconds. It’s been four minutes since I sent the message.

​I checked my phone. There was no reply. I tried refreshing the app. Maybe it’s struggling to come through. Maybe I don’t have good service in here. Should I restart my phone? But what if I restart it and she tries to message me? What if somehow the restart loses the message?

​My palms are so sweaty I fear people can see them shine. I try to disperse the sweat evenly throughout my jeans so one spot doesn’t look like I spilled water on myself. I catch a waiter looking at me as I rub the anxiety sweat from my palms on the heel of my jeans. Oh, no. They know I’m a crazy person.

​What should I be doing with my hands? What do I normally do? This is the worst thing. I hate this. Should I just leave? She’s not coming. Of course she’s not coming. She probably found a better date. Someone more handsome with money and doesn’t hate himself. Is this knife sharp enough to slit my wrists?

​Scattered moonlight was coming through the windows and spilling all over the table, illuminating the empty nothing in front of me. I was glad for a table by the window. Something to talk about, I guess. Sometimes I wonder if I could ever love a human person the way I love the moon. I love Huck that way of course, but no humans. The moon doesn’t stand me up. She doesn’t leave me waiting for her when we both know she isn’t going to come. She doesn’t pick Colby over me. She doesn’t leave.

​My waitress came back for a second time and asked, “Can I get you something while you wait?”

​“While I wait.” She’s mocking me. She knows I’m getting stood up. I should leave. Are they talking about me in the kitchen? Laughing at me? Am I tonight’s entertainment? “Have you seen the dude at table 9? He’s sweating through his hoodie for a girl that isn’t coming.” “No way that’s hilarious.” “Ya and he just keeps waiting there, checking his phone and trying not to sweat so much.” “Poor guy. I feel bad.” “I don’t. He’s a fucking loser.”

​The second cook in my fantasy seems like a nice person. Maybe we could be friends. Oh, no. The waitress is still looking at me. Have I spoken? Do I need to speak? I should tell her an excuse. A specific one. I’m not being stood up. This girl loves me but just died. Moments ago. Otherwise she’d be here. If she wasn’t dead I mean.

​I smile futilely behind my mask and order a whiskey neat. Actually, make it a double. What the hell. Nothing matters anyway.

​As my waitress smiled behind her mask and began to walk away, I noticed her ear lobes. She has gauges. They aren’t in. The restaurant must make her take them out at work. Why? How stupid. She didn’t make it far as a guy sitting at a table across from me yelled at her while snapping his fingers. Wait staff loves when you snap your fingers at them.

​“Barkeep!” He called her. “Hey barkeep!”

​Who is this asshole? Who talks like that? To be heard he had to yell loudly over the pop music.

​“Barkeep I have a question!”

​He sat alone at his table and was sipping a whiskey. Oh, god. Do I look like this guy? He was wearing skinny jeans and a hoodie under his leather jacket. His blonde hair was wild and unkempt, he ran his fingers through it as he spoke. “Where is this kale from?” He asked.

​“I’m sorry?”

​“Where is the kale from?”

​The waitress hid her irritation like a pro. “The shipment came just this morning, sir.”

​The blonde asshole took a sip of whiskey. It was slow and deliberate. Making her wait and watch. “No no, honey. Where was it grown?”

​“The kale?”

​“No the—” he paused and seemed to be attempting to come up with something clever to say. “Yes. The kale.”

​“I don’t know where it was grown, sir.”

​“No? The farm? The land? The farmer? The energy? You can’t tell me a thing about the kale, sweetie?”

​She didn’t even flinch at the sweetie. What a fucking pro.

​“No, sir. I don’t know the origin of the kale.”

​“Hmmm. Pity.” The blonde asshole played with his drink and appeared to flex his biceps in a place the waitress would have to look. “How am I supposed to buy this product I know nothing about?”

​“You don’t have to.”

​“Perhaps I won’t.”

​“Okay.” The waitress smiled so sweet I became prediabetic.

​“Well—I guess the kale will do. Do this for me though, will you?”

​He paused for an extended moment. He clearly wanted her to reply. She did not.

​“Do this for me, darling,” he continued. “You see I’m a writer. More of a poet really.” He waited for a response. There was none. “And as a writer, I must pick up on little things. You see?” Silence. “Will you go check the energy of the kale for me, darling? The name on the order is Michael Gubbins.”

​The waitress did something with her face almost like a smile. “We don’t do orders by name, sir. It’s by table number.”

***

​My glass of whiskey had somehow become empty. The question was this: What seems more like defeat; asking for another drink, or the check? The game of chicken I’ve been playing with the clock has not been going well. I’ve lost every round. The clock told me it was: 7:47pm.

​Maybe I should write her again? Nothing angry. Just something to let her know I’m leaving. My chair has its back to the door so in order for me to look at the front entrance of the restaurant, (something I’ve been doing incessantly since I’ve sat down) I must turn my entire body to do so. I thought I’d do this one more time, just for fun before I took my walk of shame. Maybe this is the time? Maybe she’s there? I wondered if the wait staff had been taking bets on when I would throw in the towel. Who had 7:48? I hope it’s the second cook from my fantasy, they deserve it.

​In truth, I had taken at least thirteen last looks. But this one was really it. This was seriously the last time before I leave. Peaking over my shoulder at the host stand, I saw a lean woman with blonde hair smiling big at the host. The only male host. He was much better looking than me. She seemed to be laughing at something he said. Even from where I sat I could see her bottom teeth in that big wide smile. She wore a small denim jacket of a light wash and tight white jeans. Her high black boots shimmered in the bright lights like the eyes of a child first walking into a stadium. They seemed full of a hope and possibility that would later turn into drunken regrets, as hope and possibility tends to do. Her undershirt was black and clearly making her breasts look much larger than they actually are. I wonder if they make products like that for muscles? A push up sleeve perhaps?

​This woman flirting with the host was of course Lana. How could it not be? The male host pointed a finger in my direction and suddenly Lana and I were locked in terrible eye contact from across the room. I quickly turned my body and looked away. I started to stand up out of habit. This is of course ridiculous. I can’t just stand here the whole time she walks over. I can’t stand here awkwardly for that long. I’ll die. And how would that look? She might just turn around and leave. I took another peak behind me as I started to sit down. She was about half way here. Something deep in my bones told me not to sit all the way down. The quick sit and stand up would be even more awkward than remaining standing.

​So I stopped myself just above the seat and hovered there, like a woman peeing in the bathroom of a nasty dive bar. I look back and realize how awkward it is to just watch her approach with my neck turned. This is wrong. Every decision I’ve made is wrong. It attempts to not be awkward I have made the most awkward of decisions. But it’s too late. Here I am. Not standing, not sitting, but hovering over the chair with my eyes focused in front of me like a soldier, waiting for a battle he’s sure to lose. Not a good start.

​I considered running. Maybe I could find a back door?

​“Bellamy?”

​It’s moments like this that time slows down. You would think with time slowed, things would be easier. You would have time to compose yourself, think, articulate the sounds you would like to come out of your mouth. Instead it seems the slowing time pins you to your place. Traps you like a fly in amber. Turns your body into rubber like when you need to run away in a dream. It’s like the extra moment to prepare makes it worse. Maybe in social settings we work best on instinct, and our brain only makes things worse.

​“Huh?”

​“Are you Bellamy?” Her smile was so big I felt I could climb inside.

​“Who?”

​She looked at me bemusedly. For a moment I thought she might walk away.

​“Or, yes. Haha,” I didn’t laugh. I literally said haha. “Just kidding, I guess.”

​We both stood silent. I should really run away. Now is the time.

​“And you’re, Lana.” It was not a question so much as a statement.

​There’s a moment when you’re meeting someone for the first time like this and there’s a general feeling that you need to embrace them in some way. A hug would of course be too familiar. A kiss on the check would maybe be kind of cool, but I could never pull something like that off. Also it’s intensely creepy. And with this being the times of Covid, it’s even more treacherous terrain. People are more weary of physical contact than ever. And they have every right to be.

​My decision was pretty clear. I needed to shake her hand. But as I reached out to her I realized that I was reaching, not with the hand of a human, but a legitimate swamp monster straight out of the storm. My hand was so full of anxiety sweat I could have given a caterpillar a bath. Become the butterfly you were meant to be my dear.

​Lana reached out to take my hand and I quickly pulled it away, laughing like a lunatic. “We shouldn’t touch,” I said. “Covid.” My laugh was anxious and terrible like a man about to commit a heinous crime.

​She did not flinch. She did not move. She just kept her hand there and said, “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

​Quickly I racked my brain to see if there was any other reason not to shake her hand. A better excuse. I came up with nothing. I could see in her face as I surrendered my hand that she immediately understood why I pulled back. After she released my soaking wet grip she wiped her hands on her denim jacket. The look on her face was not good.

***

​I wanted to try and save myself from the catastrophic first impression I had made. I wanted to try and show her I was fun, smart, or just anything other than horribly awkward. However not true this might be.

​“This is a cool place, isn’t it?”

​She looked around, seemingly taking it in. “It’s nice.”

​“Ya, really nice.” I sat there just smiling at her. She smiled back. We were both smiling. It’s funny because I know so many words. I’ve been speaking English since I was a baby. It’s my first language. My only language. For some reason though at this moment the English language seemed to be escaping me. “So nice, I’ve been meaning to try it.”

​“I’m glad you are.”

​“Ya. Me too.”

​Silence. Dense silence.

​“Are you hungry?” I asked, like an idiot.

​“Ya,” she shrugged. “Kind of.”

​“Ya, me too,” I shrugged. “Kind of.”

​Silence. Dense silence. She was still smiling though. Kind of. Did I ask her yet what she thought of the place? I think I did.

​At Real Foodz Kitchen they have you order on mini paper menus with a mini, barley sharpened pencil. Most restaurants during Covid have gone to QR codes, but not Real Foodz. In front of us were two mini menus and two mini pencils. I realized this could be a good opportunity to use the menu as something to talk about. Something to break the tension.

​I looked into her eyes with every intention of beginning to talk about the food. (Have I asked if she’s hungry?) The way the moonlight spilling through the window caught her mossy green eyes made them seem both dark and light, deep and full of mystery. Like they had so much to say, yet I’d never hear a word of it. They made my whole body vibrate with something like fear. But a warm fear. A fear I didn’t mind. It was like the music was being played from speakers in her eyes. I remember being annoyed by the music before she came. Now it warmed my chilly bones and sent shivers down my spine.

​I could smell her. Nothing too powerful, just a light hint of something fruity. A mixture of her moisturizer and some light spray of perfume. A beautiful blend. It reminded me of walking into a Bath and Body Works. The smell made me lean in slightly and eased my anxiety. It made me feel something akin to comfort. Something foreign and nice, something I didn’t know I was craving. Her energy seemed warm and controlled. Idoly, I wondered how many of these first dates she’s been on? Was she just good at hiding her fear?

​“These are cute,” she said, pulling out her menu.

​“Yes. They are cute.”

​She laughed and said, “and these pencils are adorable.” She held hers up to the light.

​“Yes. They are adorable.” I need to stop repeating her. New words. I need new words. Words of my own. “What looks good?” Picking up my mini pencil I noticed that it had no graphite in its tip. “Oh, no,” I said showing her.

​She giggled and reached out to touch my hand, “Don’t worry. We can share,” Not only did she say this with such an adorable charm it assaulted all of my senses rendering me in a state of temporary paralysis, she ended it with a wink. Her charm seemed effortless. Like it was too much and sat heavy upon her. Like she’s almost crushed by the weight of it and lets it out from a place of necessity.

​Just to be clear, that is a hand touch, and a wink. I attempted say something wity but only managed a goofy smile and a giggle much too honest. In what I hoped was a smooth moment, I surreptitiously slid my broken pencil into my hoodie pocket. A memento. Something to remember our first date, if things end up working out.

***

​When she said she needed to use the bathroom I tried to hide the relief from my face. The conversation hadn’t been going terrible, but not well either. She seemed to not remember any of our conversation over Bumble. She asked me at one point if I was a “dog or a cat person? It really says a lot about who you are as a person, you know?”

​Do I know? How could she ask me this? I told her all about Huck. He was in one of my profile pictures. He is the light of my life. The only topic I really enjoy talking about. Not to mention she had thought earlier today that I had a sick cat. I clarified. That was so recently. How could she not remember?

​She’s talked to a lot of guys I told myself. She has an endless parade of men telling her facts about their small, similar lives, yet here she is. At dinner with me. That says something, doesn’t it? It’s weird though that she never apologized for being late. Not that she needed to or anything. It just seems she would say something about it. About not returning my messages.

​While she was gone I tried to compose a list of things to talk about, cool things, funny things. Do I know any jokes? The problem was, I had pretty much knocked through all the things I knew about her in about four minutes when she first sat down. I fear I’m out of bullets. The two things I hadn’t touched yet were: how she likes her job, and dating on Bumble. These were the only things my heavy anxious mind could come up with. Not the best but here we are.

​Seeing that she was walking back, I did my best to look cool. I sat up straight and pretended to be thinking. How does one look pensive?

​“Oh my god,” she said sitting back down. “There was such a nice girl in the bathroom.”

​“Oh.” I realized this to be a bone. She was giving me an opening of sorts. “That’s cool.”

​This will not do. I need to say something better. Something to keep the conversation going. This has been the whole dinner so far. She seems to not have much to say, and when she does, I fall flat on my stomach. Conversational belly flops on the concrete.

​“How did you two start talking?”

​“You know girls in the bathroom.”

​I do not. I smiled and made a face that I hoped communicated that I did. I felt a “Oh do I” bubbling up but I swallowed it.

​“So apparently she’s out on a date too, and get this,” she leaned in conspiratorially and made a face that made me wonderfully uncomfortable. I could smell her lips. “They met on Bumble too. We’re both on Bumble dates. How crazy is that?” Lana took a bite of her bowl of secret herbs and spices. On the menu it looked so mysterious and provocative, but in person just looked like chicken, rice and vegetables with some seasoning. It comes with onions. She substituted avocado. I did everything in my power not to calculate the cost.

​“So crazy.” I tried to eat my salad that also had a nonsense name, but my anxiety had grabbed my stomach like a nerdy kid on the playground and balled it up into a shape undistinguishable and certainly not prepared to digest the pretentious and pandering ingredients in this salad. I didn’t trust myself not to projectile vomit all over her pretty denim jacket. And what a shame that would be.

​“I know right? And oh my god we are literally the same person.” This was the first time she spoke and I felt that she seemed genuinely into what she was saying. The fans buzzed busily overhead and the restaurant seemed to hum with not excitement, but something adjacent. Maybe the desire to be excited. The feeling right before disappointment. “She had only talked to him a little bit before meeting and I guess the date is a total disaster,” she laughed from some place deep and looked around the room. “Apparently he has already told her he wants to have a three way with her. Like the audacity.”

​“Damn.”

​“I know! Like we’ve just met and you think you can tell me some shit you want to do to my body,” she took a sip of her red wine. “Not that I wouldn’t maybe be down but like what the fuck, you know?”

​“Damn.”

​“And I guess he’s a total creep and not even that cute.”

​“Damn.” I worry I’ve said damn too many times.

​Lana took a sip of her wine and pulled out her phone. She looked at it with hard eyes and started typing something.

​I was losing her. This topic had gone well and I needed to keep it going. I did my best to mimic her conspiratorial lean in and asked, “Where are they?”

​She looked up with a smirk playing on the edges of her lips and nodded her head at a couple about thirty feet away. The guy looked, normal. He had a build similar to mine. He was wearing a hoodie and jeans. Did he just wipe sweat off his hands? I looked back to Lana to see her face back in her phone. A new topic then.

​“So was the lunch rush busy at work? I know a place like that probably has more traffic early in the day.” This question was supposed to establish that I pay attention. That I remember where she works and have thought about what her day might be like. Show I’m thoughtful. More than anything I just want her to talk about anything she likes. The problem was of course that it was a dumb ass question that only a boring weirdo would ask.

​She continued typing, then looked up to respond, only after finishing whatever she was doing on her phone. “Kind of.” When she spoke, she did so looking distracted. I wondered what I could say that would make her look back into my eyes. Make her look at me like she did talking shit about that creepy dude that may or may not look like me.

​I was down to my last bullet. Only one thing left that I knew she would have something to say about. I left this to a last resort because of the possible paths. The question stood at a bend in the river and I worried once taken, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the current. A toothpaste out of the tube type of question.

​“So how long have you been on Bumble?” I asked.

​Her eyes lit up. They looked in mine. There was that look. That answer to a question I didn’t understand. “Oh, god. Too long,” she shook her head and laughed under her breath. “Too long. Guys are the worst.”

​“Damn.”

​“Oh, you have no idea. It seems like every guy on there is either a creepy asshole or a total weirdo, you know?”

​I did not know.

​“It be like that,” I said.

​Then she began to spin. Both what I wanted, and what I feared. She spoke with full breath at a rapid pace. Stories of dick pics and unsolicited sexual advances. Stories of asking for money and attempts to trick her into this or that. Stories like machine guns. Stories of gaslighting and full on sociopath behavior. Stories of fuck boys. Stories of pick me boys. Stories of boys in demographics not yet given a name yet horrifying all the same. I couldn’t keep up where they began or ended. It was too much.

​I began to withdraw into myself in horror. What terrible experiences she’s endured. My fucking god is this what it’s like to be a woman? It was like a wounded soldier telling war stories in the hospital. Or a junkie in rehab trying to scare the new comers. Could these be real? Shame filled my gut thinking about how much pity I had for my own situation. I thought it was hard to be a dude. It turns out the grass isn’t greener, it’s brown. So brown.

​All I could think of was this; am I just another war story? A brand new hole in a sinking ship? Am I just another asshole putting her through a night soon to be added to her list of stories? A dinner date that she is just enduring, waiting to end with gritted teeth?

​The thought consumed me. It poked and prodded, making me almost cry out. How could I do this to her? How could I live with being just another terrible date on the list? Another thing that made her lose hope. Another thing that made her wonder if things will ever get better. Another tally in the column of things being just the way you thought they were.

​I can’t. I know what that’s like. Maybe not exactly but something certainly living in the same house.

​With the abrupt clarity of a half drunken man at three in the morning looking into the face of a stranger after having just orgasmed, Lana looked at me. Her stories were finished. Wrapped up in her momentary ability to relinquish something that had clearly been sitting heavy in her chest, she had just come back. Back to the real world, or at least the one we’re both currently inhabiting. I felt glad for her. That I had been able to give her, if nothing else, a space she felt comfortable letting these feelings go. She ran her fingers through her hair and laughed. Not at anything in particular, just a way to fill the empty space.

​“Sorry,” she said, taking a big avocado filled bite. “I’m ranting.”

​“No, no. Not at all.” I didn’t want her to feel like this was out of turn. I wanted her to understand that she could always be honest. She could always drop these heavy doses of her emotional truth on me. That was what I wanted to be for her. More than anything though I wanted to be different. I wanted her to leave this dinner feeling I was different. Not a creepy burden like the men in those stories. I wouldn’t hold her emotionally hostage. She could continue here with me of her own volition or not at all.

​“Listen,” I began. “It sounds like you’ve been through it on the app.”

​She laughed a knowing laugh. I attempted to hold her gaze with my eyes but it was too much for me.

​“And I can’t stand the idea of being another dude on that list.”

​I tried yet again to meet her gaze. She was looking at me with a dissecting intensity. I could feel her picking me apart; my thoughts, feelings, intentions. It was too much and looked down at my half eaten nonsense salad with fire in my cheeks and the ocean on my palms.

​“I’ve really been enjoying myself tonight. It has been so nice to meet you and I’d love to continue to get to know you more. But, and i really do mean this, you are welcome to leave at any time. If this dinner is just something you are sitting through out of courtesy, you by no means need to continue to guard my feelings. Like, I get it. And the last thing in the world I want is to make you feel like I’m holding you here emotionally hostage.” I took in a deep breath and let it out slow. “So if you would like to leave, this is your out. You are more than welcome to go. No hard feelings.”

​This time when I looked up to meet her eyes, they weren’t there. She was eating the rest of her herbs and spices bowl at somewhat of a rapid pace. Shoveling the remains in her mouth. I wondered if she was even listening to me. Was this a good sign? A sign that she feels comfortable? A sign that I’m being ridiculous?

​With a mouth still full of herbs and nonsense, she began to speak, “That’s really cool of you. Most guys wouldn’t do that.”

​A warmth creeped into my belly. She thought I was different.

​She took a big swallow and continued, “And honestly you seem like a great guy. I’m really glad that I got to meet you tonight. I almost didn’t come actually,” she let out a loud breath that was almost a laugh. “It’s nice to know there are guys like you out there.” The restaurant suddenly seemed empty. I guess people had left. The hour was getting late, they close at 9:00pm and I could hear the sounds of the closing duties coming from the kitchen; trash bags being fluffed, dishes being washed, cut wait staff saying their goodbyes. But it was more than that. It seemed hollow and dead, the life from before sucked out against its will. Had the ceiling fans always been spinning so loudly?

​“Bellamy,” to my surprise she leaned across the small table and reached her right hand out to mine and covered it like a blanket. She didn’t grip my hand, or rub it seductively. She just applied a light, comforting pressure. It felt genuine like we weren’t just meeting, but reunited. A former lover or friend. Someone who’s bond was deeper than something that could be articulated. She continued, “You’re going to find someone amazing. I know it.”

​The sound of her chair sliding back along the wood floor must have been the loudest thing I’ve heard in my life. It seemed to sing into the lonely restaurant for hours. I lost all concept of time. What was happening? Now on her feet, Lana reached out for the remainder of her glass of wine and raised it to her lips. She opened her throat and finished it with a professional proficiency that seemed uncharacteristic. I could see her neck bulge and veins pop as the alcohol slid down. She set the glass back down with a cloud growing over her face. She then looked at me and smiled. Not with warmth like before. This smile seemed more full of an expression like pity. But that’s not right. More like relief. I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in between. She raised her hand at me and gave a little waive before turning her hips sharply and making her way out the door.

​Before she left, she stopped to talk with the male host that is more attractive than me. He made her laugh again. She touched his chest as she laughed. Good for him.

***

​Maybe I could just look at my half eaten salad for the rest of my life. Maybe they could freeze me like this. Not death, not the end, more of an ellipses. Something provocative. Like maybe more will come. Even though we all know it won’t. I just don’t think looking back up to the world is an option right now. It just seems like a lot. Not worth it.

​I wonder where she is right now. Is she driving home on the phone? Laughing with her friends about what a train wreck our date was? What a little bitch I am for letting her just walk out like that? “I could never be attracted to a guy like that.”

​Or is she wondering if she made the right decision? Is she hurting? In her car, not driving but just sitting still in her parking spot, processing? Stuck stationary in the driver’s seat. Should she have left me? Or was it just reflex?

​To be honest this is the way the night was always going to end up. I was never meant to leave here any other way than alone. It was inevitable. I can’t imagine what it would have even looked like if this date had “worked out.” Whatever that means. It never really seemed like a possibility in my mind. How upset can you be with inevitability?

​It was the heat that struck me first. The warmth of something only human just in front of me. Then all at once, I could feel the energy of expecting eyes in the frontal of my skull. Someone was at my table. I looked up from my plate to see a beautiful woman across the table, looking at me with something near a smile. “How was everything?” She asked.

​I felt my lips twitching in a way I couldn’t control. “Very good. Thank you.”

​“Desert?”

​“No,” I said, still trying to find a smile with my lips but failing. “The check would be fine. Thank you.”

​The waitress had something I recognized in her eyes, not quite pity. Something closer to empathy. The clock now read: 8:38pm. The restaurant wasn’t dead, just dying. The way of things.

​All the earlier crowd had left. No more affluent men with discontented wives. The groups of women had dispersed and quieted down. Girls in pretty dresses pretended to reach for checks as their date took them with manly bravado and deep longing to be accepted as men. Families were gone. The sound of children, nothing but ghosts in the expensive night air. The wait staff pulling back their masks for quick breathers as they checked their phones for snap chats from the ones they loved, or at least tolerated in the lonely absence.

​I poured the remainder of my drink into my mouth. I couldn’t really feel it as I swallowed. Just like an injury, my body had numbed itself in defense. The waitress stopped by with a soft smile and nice words as she handed me the check. I had decided a while ago to tip her well. She deserved it more than me. It’s not easy working with the public. And I won’t be needing money where I’m going.

​As I reached out for the check I felt a vibration in my pocket. Who would be texting me at this hour? Or at all? I tried to not think of who it could be and left the phone in my pocket. Almost to prolong the possibility before being let down.

​No way it’s her. No way she was reaching out.

​I signed the check and gathered myself to leave. The alcohol always hits when I stand and a stumble greeted me with my first few steps towards the door. I couldn’t tell if it was the liquor or the numbness that prevented embarrassment. I mumbled a goodbye to the male host that had gained more attention from Lana than myself tonight and I felt his supercilious glare come down his nose and burn hot into the side of my head.

​The night sky was as gray and threatening as it had been all day and thick raindrops fell onto my head as I covered myself in my hood. Not that it matters. I’m soaking wet underneath anyway. The rain wasn’t pouring necessarily, it was more of a thick, heavy rain. If the rain was a football player it wouldn’t be a quick running back or wide receiver that was all over the field, but a linebacker or defensive end; slow and penetrating.

​My sweatshirt was heavy with it by the time I made it to my Subaru. I stood in the road and let it soak me through. Headlights illuminated my shame and cars honked as they swerved around me. One yelling something about me being a hunk. (I think. My head was being loud.)

​Getting into the car I bought from your grandmother, I realized I was looking for privacy to check my phone. Not that anyone was looking, or cared. It just seemed nice to be let down in a place I can’t be seen.

​I like to play a game when I really want to see something on my phone like a text message from a girl or a text message from a girl; I close my eyes and unlock my phone. Almost like I’m trying to sense what is there, like I’m trying to will it into existence. I’m aware that this is not how things work. But for a moment, the answer I want so badly is right in front of me and I can choose when, or if I see it. Control is nice, where you can get it.

​This time I genuinely considered not opening my eyes. It felt like nothing good could come of it. Rain beat against my windows like it wanted in. I rolled down all four windows. (I can be a bit of a push over.)

​With rain pouring in and soaking my seats, I opened my eyes. The vibration I felt was a notification. Not a message, it was an app. Venmo wanted me to know that: @Lana_Tha_Boss99 had paid me $16.80.

​How did she know my Venmo? I mean I guess my name isn’t overly common. And my profile picture was my same one from Bumble.

​The amount she had paid me wasn’t paying for both of us, just her. It seems like she added enough for a tip though. That was nice of her.

***

​My car was soaking wet, inside and out. I swerved in between lanes to hit every puddle I could. With my windows still rolled down, my seats had begun to look like used sponges sitting condensed and soaked on the edge of the sink after a heavy dish night.

​What did it matter? I’ve been looking for the right night, and I think I found it. Or it found me, like a soul mate or a venereal disease. If this was a movie, or a shitty book written by a shitty writer, I know how it would end. I’ve never been one for surprises.

​A few things needed to happen. I’ve never been one for a “lasts list” but it seems like I should write something. No type of overly dramatic note, just a little something for those who care. Hopefully there are more of those than I think.

​Pulling up to a red light on University Boulevard, I noticed a large collection of lights in the distance. Is there some type of event? I couldn’t quite hear anything, but the deep pulsing was in the air. That density you can feel when you’re close to a festival. You don’t have to be able to hear the music to feel the fire. The sex and excitement and wildness. There’s no venue around here though that would make sense for a festival.

​The strange amount of time it took for the light to turn pulled me from my thoughts. It always irritates me to see a small residential street light stopping main street traffic for a prolonged amount of time.

​Contemplating running the light, I felt my heart jump, then fall into my stomach as my rear view mirror lit up with red and blue lights, bright and baleful in the nebulous Denver night. Danger. Doom. Certain peril was approaching fast and fluid.

​The light turned green and I slowly took my soaking wet Subaru to the side of the road. I began rehearsing in my head some words that made me sound smart and responsible and not stoned and kind of drunk. I’m of course fucked. What did I do? I wasn’t speeding, was I? Fear trickled up my spine as I thought of the most likely reason for the cop to pull me over; swerving. Fuck.

​That’s the thing though, they don’t need any real reason to pull you over. I mean they do, but anyone who has spent any time in this country is well aware of the fact that they don’t. The police do as they please. They answer to none. It’s like being bullied by the principal. A DUI seems as good a way to end this night as any I guess.

​And to be fair, I have been driving like a drunken crazy person that is trying to kill themself. Maybe I’m the person that the public needs protection from?

​I like to keep my registration and insurance card in a place impossible to find, amidst my collection of receipts, napkins and notes I wrote to myself with reminders I’ll never read. But as I popped open my glove compartment, I jumped in my seat with the sound of impact. It made my car sway in its chassis. It was sharp and sudden, fading into the sounds of plastic bouncing and sliding down the pavement.

​It was my driver side rear view mirror. It was now lying in the far right lane. The cop was clearly in such a hurry to make it to wherever they were going, my mirror was a necessary casualty. Lots of necessary casualties these days. I took a few deep breaths and rolled up my windows. Fog began to roll up my windshield and I drew a little smiley face with my wet fingers.

​It’s not that I was scared, even though I was. It’s more something that has been instilled in me since I was young. I, like most, had a bad run in with the cops as a teenager that opened my eyes to their nature. The way they harass and intimidate. The way they try to trick with their scripted speech to steer the conversation into incriminating territory. It’s what they do. My story involves energy drinks, a couple girls we wanted to impress and a closed volleyball court my freshman year of high school. I had marks on my wrists and tasted sand for weeks. All I remember is doing my best to comply and not being able to make them happy.

​No experience since has improved my perception.

​So I wouldn’t describe the feeling I had there pulled over on the shoulder of University boulevard in my soaking wet Subaru as fear. Or at least no more than the mouse fears the snake. I’m not sure I know a word for it, I just think it’s something more pragmatic, and less emotional than fear.

​It wasn’t a mile down University that I found the cause of the cop’s erratic haste. Red and blue lights filled the rainy night sky and bounced off puddles in the street. Only the left lane was drivable as the shoulder and right lane were a parking lot of bright and shiny cop cars. It looked like a drive-in movie theater in a rich neighborhood filled with seventeen year olds driving sports cars bought by their fathers.

​Each cop car seemed nicer than the one before. The marked cars were nice but it was the undercover cars that caught my eye. From G Wagons to Land Rovers, even a row of dark colored Lamborghinis were parked in a row like they were at a photoshoot. Each one had their owner posing on the hood in full riot gear with sunglasses on their eyes. Cop Instagram will be popping tonight. I found the festival. There must have been at least fifty cop cars, maybe more. A few cars ahead of me, an old beat up Honda pulled off into the midst of the cop cars. A young girl got out with a hat that read: Pizza King. The excitement was palpable.

​As I inched with traffic up to the actual incident, the lane became tighter and tighter. All of the cops were out of there badly parked, expensive cars and standing there with nothing to do. A few were playing around with a miniature football. A small cluster was crowded around a cardboard box and throwing dice with thick stacks of cash in their hands. (The bad boys of the force.) The trunk of an undercover charger had two cops struggling with each other in a vicious arm wrestling bout.Thick meaty veins bulged from their foreheads. One cop behind them was playing ball in a cup by himself (I love that game!) and was losing his temper. There was even what appeared to be a lemonade stand. The “e’s” were written backwards on the sign. Rookies. The smile on his face was so genuine I felt one play at my lips in return. The cop noticed this and called out to me “Lemonade! Only $400 a cup!” I gave him a sympathetic grin and turned my palms up. His eyes narrowed and he flipped me off.

​At the front of the scene I was finally able to make out what had drawn all the police to this spot; A young black man was lying under three cops. He was wearing a black athletic hoodie, runners shorts and runners shoes. Rain water covered his face as he turned his neck, attempting to keep it away from the concrete. I could just barely hear the conversation happening between him and the cop pressing his face into the ground:

​“Why were you running?”

​“Just exercise, man.”

​The cop turned over his shoulder to his partner, “Look up justice X insides in the gang database.”

​His partner jumped up and sprinted to his unmarked Ferrari.

​The traffic broke up the second I got past the police stop/festival. To the right of the road there was a small grassy ditch. On the other side of the ditch was another road, leading into a neighborhood. The neighborhood looked nice. Large green lawns leading into well kept gardens. Each house looks almost identical. Expensive cars sitting in long driveways. I imagined the kids who grow up there. I imagined parents that tucked them in before bed with a glass of water and a soft kiss on the forehead. I could almost feel the warmth of a loving mother’s lips. I could feel the stare of her eyes looking deep into mine, wondering if I’m okay. Wondering if I felt safe, healthy, loved. I veered your grandmother’s Subaru off the road, through the ditch and onto the road that leads into the neighborhood. I didn’t drive in. It just felt nice to get so close.

​The rest of the drive home my car made a weird rattling sound. I fear it happened in the ditch. My head appeared to be bleeding. I fear that happened in the ditch as well. That’s okay, my car makes plenty of other noises too. And I won’t be needing it much longer.

***

​I could hear them inside, doing that talk/fight thing they do. The door handle leered at me as I attempted, again, to grip it. I don’t know how many times I’ve attempted. I don’t know how long I’ve been in this hallway. Fear brushing my fingertips as they lightly touched the cool brass. Sometimes unlocked doors are the hardest.

​As the inside air of the apartment touched my face and the smell of beer, bud, and bad cologne tickled my nose hairs, it surprised me to hear not Colby, but Zyquira’s voice coming from the couch.

​“Never have I ever…”

​“Pick a good one, babe. Yours have all been lame. Like, I’m trying to get drunk here.”

​Although I could not see, I felt her glare at him.

​“Never have I ever cheated on you.”

​A brief moment of silence hung.

​“Come on, babe. What the fuck. I’m trying to have fun.”

​“Drink up, babe.”

​“Fuck, babe. Come on. Why you gotta be like that?”

​“Thought you were trying to get drunk, babe.”

​As always, the energetic run, jump, dance and spins of my favorite organism gave my presence away. Huck cried out like he hadn’t seen me in years. I dropped to my knees and fell into all seven pounds of him. He gave me a thorough cleaning with his rough little tongue.

​“How did it go?”

​I pretended not to hear her words and kept petting Huck. I figured if I didn’t acknowledge it maybe she’d let it go.

​“Bro, where she at? You already bust your nut? That quick? Shit you did though. You dog. You fucking dog. Did you at least take her somewhere or was it right there in the bar?”

​“Colby, he didn’t take her to a bar.”

​“Damn, dog. Right there in the bar bathroom? You dirty fucking dog, you. Damn you dirty. Did you at least wrap it up?”

​Maybe I could just slit my wrists right here? On the floor. Colby doesn’t even know who I am. Would he even notice?

​“No shit? Raw dog? You dirty raw doggin son of a bitch. You got her pregnant. You know that? She is pregnant now you dirty ass dog, you. Wheehw.”

​“We did not make love.” I hated myself the moment the words left my lips.

​“Make love? What the fuck is a make love? You fuck a bitch, boy. You fuck that nasty little pussy like it did something wrong. Then you’ve done never heard of it. Fuck a bitch dog.”

​“You fuck a bitch? Is that so?”

​“Oh, babe. No. Not you. I didn’t mean you.”

​The room grew quiet and tense. The air felt thick and heavy like we were in water. Petting Huck even seemed to take more effort. I wondered if they could feel it or if their level of intoxication precluded their ability to pick up on the energetics of the room. Then again, I’m drunk too. Aren’t I?

​It seemed like a long time before anyone spoke. When someone did, she sounded like she had honey on her tongue and already knew the answers to any question she could ask, “So, Bellamy. Truly, how did it go?”

​I looked to Huck, who stared up at me with that devastating perfection of his. I ruffled his ears and took in a large breath and let it out slow. “It went well,” I kept my voice as level as I could.

​“Do you think you’ll see her again?”

​“Maybe.”

​“You dirty fucking dog. You dirty raw dogging son of a bitch.” Colby wasn’t really saying this to me. He was staring at the television as he spoke. He had been in a waiting room for the next round of whatever video game was happening. Something with a gun. It’s always something with a gun. If he had looked away from his game he would’ve seen his girlfriend was looking at him with intense eyes. Anger? Probably. I’m not sure though, I couldn’t see.

​The static that always hangs over a small get together of half drunken children fighting depression was accented with the sound of simulated gun fire and the silence of wondering what brought you here. It was tight. The only thing that could happen was for the room to pop. And this pop came in the form of three strikes on the door.

​“Who’s that?” Zy looked suspicious.

​I shook my head.

​“Babe?”

​Colby gave no sign of having heard a thing.

​“Colby!”

​He gave only the slightest indication that he had heard his name, “Hmmm?”

​“The door?”

​“What about it?”

​With a deep guttural sound of irritation, Zy got up and investigated the knocks. I rolled over onto my back (still on the floor) to watch. Huck took this as an invitation and leaped onto my chest and curled up like a cartoon cat.

​After just a moment, Zy returned. Her expression changed. “What is this?” In her hand was a large white plastic bag with indiscernible red writing on the side.

​“Hmmm?” He still didn’t look up from his video game.

​“The food?”

​“Goddammit!” Colby shook his controller in irritation. It appears his fictional being lost its fictional life. “What’s up, babe?”

​Zy said nothing, took several steps to the cluttered living room table and put down the plastic bag.

​“Oh ya, I ordered Pho.”

​Zy’s face softened. She looked quizzically in silence at the man she spends all her time with.

​“Remember?” Colby put his controller down and for the first time in as long as I can remember, he looked at her like she was the only thing he could see. “Last night you were tired and sad. You said that you don’t know why you’ve been struggling so bad recently. That you needed something that makes you happy. You said you hadn’t had Pho in too long.” The density of the air stayed, but took on a new form. A reshaping to something softer around the edges. I felt the heat behind my eyes. Colby continued, “And an hour or so ago you said something about being hungry. I thought this might make you happy.”

​Zy, still silent, sat down next to the man that I remembered from high school. The man that used to stick up for me when kids were giving me shit. The man that protected me and gave me a discounted room to rent when I was struggling. She put her hands softly on his cheeks, barely touching them. “Thank you.”

​“Of course, my love. I know things have been rough recently. I know you’re struggling. So am I. Quarantine has been hard. I know you miss working. And I know it’s not easy sitting inside all the time with me being a dick. But you deserve happiness. You deserve the small things in life that make you feel like it’s worth living. The things that make getting out of bed bearable. I love you, Zyquira. You bright and beautiful soul.”

​It was hard to hear, and I couldn’t see her face. But it sounded like she told him she loved him too. And it sounded like she was crying.

​I felt a vibration in my pocket. Huck stirred on my chest. An adorably imperfect couple kissed softly on the couch with hot styrofoam at their knees. I pulled out my phone to a notification from Bumble. I had a message. It was Lana. She said: “It was really nice to meet you. Thank you for being such a good guy! I wish you nothing but luck in your future :)”

​That was nice of her. She didn’t have to do that. I sent her a message back, reciprocating the sentiment.

***

​“Pho me?”

​The smell of hot and salty Vietnamese soup was strong enough to cover the smell of beer, bud and bad cologne. Or maybe it wasn’t stronger, just new.

​“Pho sho.”

​The two of them giggled and leaned into each other as they spooned it into their mouths, blowing on it first to cool it down.

​“Pho real?”

​I just watched them make bad puns to each other, petting Huck, lying on the cold hard floor.

​“What the pho do you think?”

​Colby had paused his deeply involved virtual murder for the consumption of comfort food with the women he loves. It really was adorable.

​I think the thing that makes the most sense is just to kill myself in my bed. Then, they can just light me and the bed on fire and be done with me. It just seems the easiest way. Erase me please.

​Silently, I walked over to the kitchen (four steps from where I lay. Maybe five.) and retrieved the dab rig. The television was silent, showing the menu of Colby’s game. Someone’s phone was playing music. It sounded like some folky punk rock. Like AJJ or maybe Neutral Milk Hotel. I can’t be sure though, it wasn’t playing very loudly. The overhead fan spun and gave the air a slight chill. It was cold and stormy outside, and cold in the apartment. Yet I sweat.

​The process of lighting a dab rig is the most druggy a pothead can feel. Putting the blow torch to the glass just feels like you’re a part of some scare campaign commercial you would have watched in fifth grade DARE class. It took them a moment to realize I was sitting next to them on the couch with a blow torch.

​“Ooo is it dab time, bro?”

​“How about a dab and a shot?”

​I smiled and nodded my head. It was time to tie off this night.

​Colby made a clique toast before we took our shots. Then we took another. Whatever level of fucked up I was trying to achieve was making its last stand. My dab made me cough so hard I almost vomited all the whiskey back out onto the glass of the cluttered living room table. I stared at a spot on the wall that looked like an evil face for three and a half hours. Or maybe it was thirty seconds. Hard to say.

​A little tipsy won’t do. A little high isn’t going to cut it. If I’m going to do what I’m going to do, I need to be fucking wrecked. A full slaughter of the soul. My last meal was depressing and I was too anxious to swallow correctly, which honestly is to be expected. But that makes this my last meal, more or less. Poison and concentrated pot. I really wouldn’t want anything less. Die like I lived I guess.

​Oftentimes things are disappointing. Nothing ever lives up to the hype. Usually the best part of any important event or thing you’ve tricked yourself into thinking matters is the build up, the anticipation. It’s not your day off that’s truly enjoyable, it’s the night before.

​So here I am; on a couch with two of my closest friends, high on dabs, whiskey and anticipatory adrenaline, completely and utterly alone.

​“I’m fucked up, yo,” Colby said, breaking the silence. Also staring at something, or nothing, on the wall.

​“Same.”

​When Zy said nothing to echo the feeling I looked over to see her staring at her necklace. The necklace Colby got her. The fox leather cord of the necklace leads down to a big opal stone that sits on something that could be best described as “what those hippy girls would put pendants on.” You know? If you’ve ever been to an EDM show you’ve seen girls wearing them. The Australian opal stone seems blue, but if you look close there are shades of green, milky white and small red dots that shine silently throughout. It reminds me of a color I would see a girl wearing as mascara. The stone is haunting and deep. Colby wanted to get her a stupid diamond. Luckily, his roommate has better taste.

​Zy’s dark beautiful eyes were completely lost in it. She looked like she had left her body. Dabs can do that. So can Australian opal. She was looking at it like it was the only thing in the world. She looked at the stone in total consumption, drinking it in and letting it sit.

​I want someone to look at me the way she looked at that stone.

***

​With the taste of her look hot in my mouth, I retreated into my room and locked the door behind Huck and I. The bed squealed as I fell hard onto the mattress and clawed at my belt. Clearly I was more fucked up than I had thought because unbuckling the top button on my jeans was almost impossible. After painstaking effort I dropped my zipper and pulled out my half hard dick. The tip was a little wet but with what, I’m not sure.

​I love this hoodie. It doesn’t need any hard dry spots. I ripped it off and tossed to the floor with my soaking wet shirt.

​And I was gone. I wasn’t Bellamy the lonely stoner. I wasn’t alone in a room as my dog made squeaking noises wrestling his toy, I was the Australian opal. I hung from a fox leather cord and was sitting in the hands of a beautiful woman that reminds me of a princess. I was a gift, from her boyfriend.

​Her soft eyes looked innocent and wet as they stared at me. They looked atavistic and raw, like she had abandoned her head and was operating purely by heart. It was like I could see her heart through her clever brown eyes. She was consumed with me. Nothing else existed but me. Although I’m a stone, I felt liquid. She drank me in. Not quick like a shot. Slow and methodically like I was a chocolate milkshake. She savored every drop of my rich flavor. She never wanted me to end.

​And then with a thick, hot muscle spasming release all over my stomach, I was back. I was Bellamy. A sad boy alone in his room, laying on his bed, flat on his back, with hot cum all over his stomach. My belly button looked like a pool of bad milk.

​Lying there feeling the cum dry on my stomach I looked over to my desk. It was just sitting there. I had thought about it all day. At some point Huck had jumped on the bed and I had to swat him away from licking my unborn children off my belly. That would be weird.

​Getting slowly to my feet made the cum drip down my torso and I leaned back to keep it from falling onto my jeans. A little still found its way but not too much.

​I reached out with my dry hand and picked it up off my desk. The scuffed up tin box of mints shined bright in my lightless room. I held it flat in my dry, sweatless palm. It was the lightest thing I’d ever held.

​Inside the tin mintbox, there were no mints. Instead, seventeen Oxys lay inside a small clear drug bag. I’ve never really liked opiates that much. A fact that made these just the thing. I wouldn’t end up just taking them for a fun high one night when I was bored. They were for a specific purpose. They were the pistol with a single shot I kept on my desert island. They were my ticket out of this fucking place.

​Seventeen pills is certainly enough to get the job done, and then some. I need that. No botch suicide for me, waking up in the abrasive hospital light to pity stares from people pretending to give a fuck. There is another reason too. Seventeen was the age that I became me. It was both the last time I felt like myself and the time that I lost myself. Each morning when I open my eyes, groggy and disoriented, before I remember the truth of my sad existence, for just a moment, I’m seventeen again.

​And besides all the poetry, it’s really the only option. I can daydream all I want about hanging myself from light post and blowing my brains out in public like some kind of Tarantino character, but the truth is I’m a coward. I don’t have it in me. I could take a handful of pills though. That seems something I’m capable of.

​Huck looked up at me with such comforting eyes. He always knows when I need them. He always knows when I need him. It’s like he was born a natural ESA. Maybe all dogs are. I feel bad leaving him. It will kill him. He’ll never be okay again, always waiting by the door for me to come home. Waiting with his yells of agony, his jump and spins. That rough little tongue just ready to like skin that turned to dust long ago.

​That’s not true though. Colby is an asshole but he loves Huck. And Huck loves him. They would both be just fine. And looking at the gray in his coat I wonder how good his memory is these days. Six isn’t old, but he’s not a puppy either. Maybe he could forget. That would be nice.

​Gracefully arching my back like a ballerina, while the cum finished drying on my stomach, I reached into the pocket of my jeans. I pulled it out and jammed it into the little pencil sharpener I still kept from high school. It was already too small but after the sharpening, it was just large enough to grip. Maybe the little hipster pencil from dinner wouldn’t be a memento of the relationship that will never be, bit it can still be a momento. Maybe for Colby, or maybe even Zy. I doubt it though.

​My journal was near full. I flipped to a spot near the back and fell onto my bed. This is my chance. Nobody is invisible once they’re gone. Everyone suddenly wants to hear. Everyone suddenly cares when it’s too late.

​All the ones before weren’t quite right. If I’m going to leave tonight, I should do it justice. The few that will care deserve something:

***

​To whom it may concern,

It occurs to me these things are supposed to be profound. Say all the things I need to say, but haven’t. Because I get scared and I’m not sure anyone would listen. Not sure anyone would understand. If this was a shitty movie or a shitty book written by some shitty hack writer, this would be a montage. Voice over of me poignantly reading this note would play as I put on the suit I don’t own, slowly tied my tie and combed my hair, making sure I looked good for my big day. Then I would prepare my method; gun, noose, bathtub if we’re feeling sexy, that sort of thing. But as I write this note the thing I worry about most is that nobody will care. Maybe my death pops up on social media for a few days and some people that never gave a shit about me can make it about themself, but for the most part the world will continue as normal. I’m tired. Tired of waking up everyday and going to a job I hate. Tired of smiling at people that speak to me like a dog. Or, maybe not a dog. What kind of monster would speak that way to a dog? Then I go home to an apartment I can’t afford and try to do the few things that bring me joy with the few people that bring me joy until I have to force myself to bed so I don’t feel like shit tomorrow doing the same thing. Does everyone feel like this? It feels like someone dropped me when I was young. I’ve been walking around broken trying to pretend like this is normal. Does everyone feel this broken? I fucking hurt. And I’m not even sure if this pain is real or something I dreamt up to make myself feel? The thing is: I’m not sure I really enjoy anything anymore. Everything I do feels like chasing a dragon I saw once long ago. The things I do aren’t because I look forward to them but because I remember enjoying them before. It’s like I cling to every little good thing I’ve ever known just holding onto it like a life raft. Will you be my exit buddy? And I’ve realized these things don’t keep me alive, they distract me from being alive. Maybe that’s the problem. Being alive. I’m not sure why I do that anymore. What is the point? I don’t like it here. People say it gets better, but I see their forced smiles and hollow eyes. They say that if you just stick it through that something will come along to be your reason. Someone. And I’ve been looking. I’ve been searching for someone to be my reason to continue. Someone to be my semicolon. But the more I look at relationships around me the more I realize it’s all bullshit. They’re just using each other, the same way I use drugs, books and daydreams of my own demise. It’s something to distract. That’s not what I want. I don’t want some bullshit flimsy connection I call “Love” to distract me from the fact that nothing means anything. This is all pointless. People say they want to find the meaning of life. That’s why they created stupid shit like career, religion and the concept of self. Well I’ve got some bad news. I know the meaning of life; do your best to continue breathing until you no longer exist forever and try to convince yourself you matter. Even though you know you don’t. You don’t matter. Your life doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. I try not to speak in absolutes. Only the willfully ignorant speak in absolutes. But, nothing matters, Everything is nothing and soon you will be too. Enjoy your sugar and sadness. You don’t actually exist. Well I’m done. I’m done pretending. I’m done telling myself the age old trope that I’m going to find someone that will make it all better. That I’m going to find someone to make me feel whole. That some broken girl with a pretty smile is going to come along and make everything oka—

​A bright light shot up from my bed and into the heavens of my box, illuminating my pitch dark room. It was my phone sending me a notification.

***

​I leaped so quickly to my bed that I lost my footing and fell face first onto the carpet. My face tingled as a carpet burn began to form on my forehead. Huck came over to lick my face in support. Luckily, the cum had dried on my stomach and none got onto my ugly carpet.

​Unlocking my phone, I saw it was a notification from Bumble. It was a new match. And a message: Destini thought my dog was cute. She wanted to know what kind of breed he was? (A fact I left off my profile on purpose to give an easy question.) ​

​“You hear that, buddy? You’re helping.”

​Huck looked up at me with his tongue hanging out between two wide almond eyes. His little tail wagged rapidly like he knew what I said. Maybe he did. He is perfect.

​I responded to the message with the answer to her question and asked her one in return. How funny. Just when I needed it, Destini came knocking. The only problem was, she’s missing the ‘y’.

​Cleaning myself seemed pointless. I slid back into my hoodie, pulled up my jeans and headed back out to the living room. The tin mint box sat heavy in my pocket.

​“Why is everybody on my team shit? How do I keep ending up on these shit teams. I swear my back be getting fucking heavy carrying all theses teams. You see this shit, babe? Who the fuck?”

​Although he addressed Zy, one look to the couch showed he was only talking to hear himself speak. She was half asleep on his shoulder. She still held the Australian opal in her strong, delicate hand.

​They didn’t seem to notice as I walked by them and out to the porch. They were in the beautiful late night bubble that only lovers know. No amount of alcohol can touch that level of intoxication.

​Huck slid through the opening and I shut the sliding glass door behind him. He began to whimper almost immediately. I knew he would. His paws get cold. I have a little wood plank on the end of my garden that I keep for just that.

​The storm was still going strong. The rain droplets looked to have thinned out from before and now were tiny and plentiful in the pitch black night sky. The moon was full and bright, yet somehow the night was still exceptionally dark.

​To say the wind was strong wouldn’t be quite right. It was certainly present though and it carried little droplets sideways onto the porch. Nothing to soak us or make me cover the garden, just enough to put a light mist on my face. It felt nice. Huck stuck out his tongue, catching rain droplets then chomping at them with a click of his tiny teeth. Sometimes you have to bite the rain.

​There is a certain quiet rain storms bring to this city below the Rocky Mountains. It feels like being alone in a quiet room with white noise playing, or a box fan spinning. It doesn’t eliminate the silence, instead it somehow results in an amalgamation of the two. Sound and silence together in harmony. Or maybe that’s nonsense.

​Huck’s eyes stayed fixed on the storm, looking attentively for something that wasn’t there. Searching with his eyes as his tongue hung absentmindedly. I know dogs are creatures of limited intellect. And while yorkiepoo is certainly an above average breed for intelligence I have no delusions that he is looking off contemplating a deepness I’ll never know. But maybe he is? Maybe he’s looking into the storm and examining his own existence. What is he doing here? Is this where he’s supposed to be? What can be done about all this? Does everything mean anything? Probably not. He is probably just watching the storm. Which is just as good I guess.

​It’s the time of night to whisper loving sentiments to my orchids. I pointlessly do the same for my dandelions. Both might be pointless. Leaning close and putting my face near the soil, I noticed one of my orchids was dying. I had seen it struggle as of late and gave it extra attention and love, but to no avail. It looked to have turned the corner. It’s funny how quickly things can turn. How something can be thriving, then show a sign or two of trouble and be too far gone in a blink. It hurt me. No matter how much attention I gave it, no matter the nourishment, the love, the environment, no amount of special treatment could save it. Some things just require more than the world has to give. ​

​I thought of picking it out, or repotting the dying orchid alone in its own pot as a last attempt to save it. But that’s not what it needed. Instead I decided to let it die next to its friends, with whatever dignity life can muster when the blackness comes to consume.

​Almost as a reflex, I reached out to pet Huck. Hoping maybe him and I could have a silent funeral for the slipping life. Or maybe I just need comfort. Probably that. I think he saw it before I did. His little paws jumped back in surprise, almost falling off the wooden ledge and he let out a little yelp. I’m not sure I ever saw it. I definitely heard it though.

​The thud startled me and threw me off balance. My left foot hooked the leg of my garden stand and I fell flat on my back. Huck, in support, jumped from the ledge straight onto my stomach and knocked the breath out of me. He is helping.

​The sliding glass door had a small streak of blood on it surrounded by little gray feathers. Below it, a mourning dove lay twitching on the wood planked floor of the porch. It was a beautiful looking creature, even as it was dying. It’s gray feathers and dark eyes looked elegant. It only twitched for a few moments, then died right there, a couple feet from my toes. Huck and I watched silently.

​“Everything is dying buddy,” I told Huck as I pet his head.

​The wind of the storm carried the lightest of mists onto the sliding glass door. The mist mixed with the mourning dove’s blood and began running down the glass. I looked through to Colby and Zy in the living room. They were still lost in each other. They hadn’t noticed a thing. Was the dove thrown off course by the storm? Was it tricked by the glass? Did it think it was flying into the lights of my apartment? Looking for shelter from the storm? Was it attempting something just beyond its reach?

​Watching the rain and blood trickle down slow with two lovers holding each other just behind it, it reminded me of a time I died in the rain:

​I was in love with Alissa in high school. Alissa was in love with Jay Leno. They were the cutest couple. They used to walk down the halls every day, hand in hand like they were out of some bad coming of age teen movie. They were destined for marriage. It was obvious to everyone, including me. I was friends with both of them. They would stop their slow motion romantic walk down the halls to talk to me. It was nice. They were nice. I always felt they were too popular for me but that never stopped them. Nobody seemed to understand what a weirdo I really was.

​Alissa would come up to me sometimes after schoool when she was waiting for Jay. She would smile at me and we’d talk about nothing in particular. The whole time I would feel like my insides were melting. I never knew what to do with my face, it always felt so out of control when she was close. That was about the time my sweat glands began to conspire against me. Those bastards. Sometimes she would touch my arm, or chest or shoulder as we talked. Nothing sexual, it was just friendly. Nonetheless her touch seemed to fundamentally change me. That part of my body that came into contact with her wouldn’t be able to move properly for hours.

​No matter what though, our one on ones would always be interrupted by Jay Leno coming up and saying some stupid shit like “Hi, Bells.” Or “What’s up?” I hated him. That’s a strong word and I don’t mean it but I really did hate him. That son of a bitch.

​There was a day late junior year. Alissa and Jay had broken up. They did that sometimes. It never lasted. It was day nine of their break up, I think. I wasn’t counting. I couldn’t remember it ever hitting ten days before. It hadn’t. There was a nine day break up sophomore year but they got back together, around dinner time, the night of the ninth day. I think. I didn’t keep that close of track.

​I knew I didn’t have long to act. This was the night to take my shot. She was over at Tom Delgado’s house, there were just four of us getting fucked up when she came over. She wasn’t coming over to hang out and get sexy drunk like in a teen coming of age movie or shitty Netflix show. She was coming over to get fucked up. To let go. To make her head shut the fuck up. I assume at least.

​When she showed up she was wearing baggy sweats, a hoodie and her hair in a bun. She wore neither makeup nor a bullshit smile on her face.

​I remember realizing the second she showed up that I would never have the balls to tell her how I felt. Or really say anything at all.

​There was a moment in the kitchen that she told me how much I meant to her and fell into my chest, both of us sweaty and sad from the alcohol and life. I’ll always remember the way she looked up at me. If it was a shitty Hollywood movie I would have kissed her. Right then. That was the moment. But I didn’t.

​It was when she left. She walked out of Tom’s house and stood on the sidewalk in front of her car. It was a gray Jeep Grand Cherokee, dirty and muddy around the tires. It was raining hard at this point. Her sweats and hoodie were turning a darker shade of gray from the wetness. Her bun was soaking and falling off to the side. I watched her from the living room window. In that moment, she was perfect. She was completely in her element. I remember thinking I had no choice. Or maybe it was the quantity of bottom shelf Burnette’s blueberry vodka running through my bloodstream.

​I ran out the door, wearing only my t-shirt and stopped right behind her. She stood for a moment with her back to me, looking at me through the reflection of her Jeep’s window. The rain beat down heavy on us both. I could see myself distorted and wet in the foggy window. After a minute I thought she might not turn around at all. And she didn’t, not until I spoke. I don’t remember exactly what I said. It wasn’t much. Who remembers such things? All I said was:

​“Alissa. I—I don’t mean to—I like you—like I like you—I think. A lot. You should know I guess.”

​She turned around with the smile an alien would wear pretending to be a human. She told me how much I meant to her again. How great a friend I am. How much it would hurt to lose me. She got into her car. She drove away. She may have hugged me or something.

​And it’s possible Colby is right. It’s possible I fell to my knees and sobbed in the rain until my head hurt. But it wasn’t just the rejection. My tears weren’t for what could have been. They were for what was. They were for the position I put her in. The fact that I was “that guy.” I cried because I was a shitty friend. She needed help, a person to listen and allow her space to cope with a difficult situation in her life. She needed support. And I pulled some typical guy shit. “Sorry you’re broken hearted, did you know I have a penis?” I cried for my hypocrisy. I cried for the person I was. I cried because I couldn’t help it.

***

​The cold tin was burning a whole in my pocket. I really needed to get my box of pills, my escape, my exit plan, back safe on my desk. The last thing I need is to not be able to find them when I need them.

​I made a quick stop by the kitchen to fill up a glass of water. I will certainly need it tomorrow morning to fight my soon to be throbbing head and aching soul. Colby and Zy seemed asleep when I walked by. It was cute.

​I placed the cup of water next to some Advil on the floor beside my bed. I put my tin escape button on my desk. It took away some anxiety that it was in its place. I felt my heart slow.

​Every time I crawl into bed Huck likes to sit and watch what position I’m going to take. He just watches patiently as I toss and turn until I find a position worth trying, then he finds my butt, and snuggles it.

​A light from my desk penetrated the darkness of my space as my phone notified me of something. I was willing to bet it was Destini. She must have replied. I’ll have to check it tomorrow.

​My eyes stared at the back of my eye lids. It’ll be a while before I drift off. I like to stress and sweat hot salty sweat into my sheets for several hours before I fall asleep. It’s kind of my thing.

​The darkness seemed to taunt me tonight. It always does. The way of things. It told me things I already know in a cruel, sharp voice. A voice you would see in some shitty Disney movie attributed to the villain. They would be old, cunning and sound flamboyant and vicious. Disney loves making villains flamboyant. I can see their long grey nose hairs sway as they speak:

​“Stop being such a fucking victim, Bellamy. Tonight went just to plan. It always does. You know thaw. You don’t want love. You want to pine. You want something to long for, something you’ll never attain. You want to love that which will never love you back. A guarded love that would never reciprocate. A safe love.

​“Because the truth is, if you ever caught the mailman, you wouldn’t be happy. You would have no idea what the fuck to do. You would turn tail as quickly as you came and begin barking at the moon.”

​“But I’m sad,” I told the darkness. “And I’m lonely. Wouldn’t I like to not be lonely?”

​The darkness made that fucking noise it always does, being the pretentious son of a bitch it is. “No. You would not. It’s not your loneliness that creates your sadness,” they told me. “No not at all. In fact the two don’t even know each other. They live in separate rooms with the doors locked. You know your sadness.” The darkness said this last sentence with a deep thick wind in their belly.

​And I do. I thought about the world I live in. This whole place. They way people treat each other. The tents on the street and people cages each city keeps full up to capacity as they collect their state paychecks. I thought of people punching clocks and taking orders from assholes named Kyle. I thought of hot tears below gray hairs wondering where the time went and what it was all for.

​I’m tempted to ask what happened? When did we get so lost?

But no. This has always been the way of things. We humans really do love yearning for a time that’s never existed. The imagined “golden days.” A time where things were pretty and simple and happy. But the truth is it’s always been sickness and squalor. Dirt and tears. The few stepping over the many and trying not to get their shoes dirty.

​“But why?” I asked the darkness. “Why the loneliness?”

​The darkness now sounded softer, and gentle. Pity in their voice. I hate pity:

​“Your loneliness is a coping mechanism, Bellamy. Something to drive you. A match to your fire. You think you want love, but deep down you know you can’t handle it. So instead it’s you and I. Inevitably dancing under your skull and behind your eyes. Whispering to each other like we have something to say. Just trying to fill the silence.”

​“Will you leave?”

​ Darkness smiled. “I’ll never leave you, Bellamy.”

​It always seems that when I open my eyes after speaking with the darkness that my room seems brighter. After looking into the abyss, my room seems nothing more than dimly lit. I tried not to wake Huck as I rolled out of bed. I didn’t especially have to pee. It just seemed like something to do.

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