Author's note: My editor is still a lazy fucker, so I apologize for any typos, etc. I missed.
My fans—all 0.000274 million of them—always ask me why I don’t write serious stories anymore. The short answer is that I think I have lost the ability to give my sad characters any kind of redemption. I beat them bloody in front of a small crowd and walk away.
Sometimes I think it has to do with sobriety. Sometimes I think it has to do with mental health.
I wrote a much longer intro, but it's all really bullshit.This is one of those instances where it's better to show than to tell.
The process, if you want to call it that, goes like this:
I’m walking through the food court in the building where I work, going for smokes or a diet Coke or whatever. It's a good day and I remind myself of where I really am. I am an editor in a nice office downtown. I am not a pizza delivery driver with a master’s degree who lives with his mom. Gratitude.
It’s 2 p.m. and relatively quiet. There are rectangular pools two feet high spread throughout the space. There are plants. There’s a New York style pizza place and a convenience store. There’s a burrito place and a place for smoothies. Sometimes you’ll see children being wheeled around on a cart thing. The cart is always pushed by a slightly overweight woman of any race.
As I pass by the salad place, I see a guy sitting alone with his late lunch. On his table, he has a McDonald’s hamburger—the little one that isn’t on the menu anymore. The original one that probably cost a dime when the restaurant had just a handful of locations. He has a can of Dr. Pepper. He has an individual-size bag of Kroger brand potato chips. He has two bite-size Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. That kills me. I could have handled the rest of it, but I saw the peanut butter cups and I start writing this sad shit in my head.
Jimmy woke up that morning at 6:32 a.m. like he did every weekday and Saturdays when he had to work. He doesn’t remember why his alarm is set to 6:32 a.m. and doesn’t ask himself. His name is actually Jimmy and not James, though he’s now forgotten that he hates that. He’s 43 years old. He lives with his father. He’s about 30 pounds overweight and his belly is hard.
He walked to the bathroom to take a piss and looks at himself in the mirror above the toilet. I need to get that gym membership this weekend. When he gets out of the shower, he can hear his father moving around in the kitchen. He goes to his room to finish dressing. It’s the bedroom he grew up in. The posters of girls in bikinis and Lamborghini’s have been taken out, and in their place, there are pictures of grand landscapes he’d cut from magazines, framed poorly in frames he bought at Hobby Lobby. He chooses a pair of Dockers and one of the polos with his company’s logo on the chest. He takes his time because he doesn’t want to talk to his dad this morning. If his dad is up, that means he’s in a good mood and he’ll want to talk.
Jimmy lives with his dad because his dad has MS and spends most of his time in a wheelchair. Jimmy doesn't know why his dad has his good and bad days. Maybe he's bipolar, or maybe some days he has more energy to devote to being happy and normal and as functional as possible. Or maybe it's the depression that comes with MS.
“Jimmy, I'm packing you a lunch,” Jimmy's dad said, looking over his shoulder from where he was preparing a sandwich at the counter. The height of the wheelchair made it an awkward position in which to make a sandwich.
Jimmy felt the love from his father and the lunch he had packed. And he hated him for it. Hated him for his MS. Hated him for still being alive. He hated himself for feeling this way. Jimmy missed his mother.
His father put the sandwich in a brown paper bag with the contents listed on the side in blue ballpoint pen, the script almost illegible.
1 x bologna sandwich
1 x bag potato chips
1 x can Dr. Pepper
2 x Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups
$1.08 in case you want to get a hamburger from McDonald’s
“Thanks, Dad,” Jimmy said, grabbing the bag and putting his other hand on his dad’s shoulder. “I’ll see you after work.”
“Have a good day, Son. I love you.”
Ok, that’s all I can write about Jimmy and his dad right now.
Here’s the one I thought of while I was camping.
I’m walking through Wal-Mart in Burnet, TX, looking for an air mattress. Mine finally gave out and I basically slept on the ground last night. I think about being 41 years old. My hip hurts.
So many products in Wal-Mart. So many shitty products. I think about America. I think about the reasons for Wal-Mart and why it makes me feel this way. Wal-Mart is necessary. Sometimes, it’s the only thing you can afford. Sometimes, it’s the only thing in town. Sometimes, you just need an air mattress. Maybe you’re a little lonely want to be around people. I think about how I could buy anything in the store. I think about how that’s not true.
I walk passed the lingerie section and think, Man, the lingerie section usually makes me kind of horny, but not here. If I’m in Target, I think about hot college girls buying bras and panties. It's some Girls Gone Wild shit in my head. If I’m in Macy’s, I think of slightly older women buying those things. These women are always pretty. They are always sweet and innocent and just a little bit dirty. They have money from their parents or from their first jobs out of college. Either way, they feel fine about where they are. Proud maybe. But not at Wal-Mart.
The girls I imagine buying bras and panties at Wal-Mart aren’t proud of it. Or maybe they are, which makes it even sadder. My pity embarrasses me and I feel guilty. I'm an elitist asshole. Then I think of Sally.
Sally drank half a box of wine the night before, watching TV in the converted barn apartment she rented for 75 bucks a week from her cousin Angie. Her cousin was married to a nice man who had inherited the Ford dealership in town. Her cousin had always been just a little bit better than Sally. Better at sports. Better at school. Better at everything, but just enough so that Sally always thought she would be able to catch up if she worked a little harder. Maybe should could have at some point.
But Sally—her daddy used to call her Sallymander—wasn’t thinking of any of that today. It was her day off from the tractor supply store and she was buying some new clothes; it was time. John had been gone a year and she knew she needed to "get back out there." Everyone told her so. "Get back out there." She didn’t believe it, but she knew she was tired of hurting. She knew that John would want her to be happy. She knew that.
Sally knew she needed a new bra but was really self-conscious about her breasts. They were small but saggy. One boy in high school had called them flapjacks and that word entered her mind any time she had her clothes off, even alone. Well, that's not exactly true; she never felt self-conscious when John was still alive. He made her feel beautiful. Magazine beautiful. But now he was gone and that word was back.
She’d seen an inspirational quote one of her friends posted on Facebook that morning: "I am in charge of how I feel and today I am choosing happiness." Sally was choosing happiness. No more letting the past define her. Today was going to be a good day.
She walked into the Wal-Mart, straight to the lingerie section, her head held high. Her head sagged a bit when she got there, but she remembered that quote. Today I am choosing happiness. Other ladies were in the section, some in pairs and some alone like her. Sally was happy that she didn’t see anyone she knew.
She was looking for something both conservative and sexy. White cotton with a bit of lace? Yes, something like that. After browsing for a moment, she found what she was looking for. She was officially a small B-cup but usually wore an A. An A was tight enough to keep her boobs from flopping over. She hated the feel of skin on skin, the roll underneath. She chose three—one white with lace, one pink with lace, and one that was a see-through black. She wouldn’t buy the black one, but she figured trying it on was a step in the right direction.
It was Saturday and the dressing room was a mess. Clothes strewn everywhere, in the corners and hanging over the stall doors. I wish they would keep this tidier, she thought. She felt a little melancholy creep in, or maybe it was down the block, but either way, it was coming. Sally told it no. Not today. Today I am choosing happiness. She looked under a few doors to find an empty room and finally found one at the end of the row. Discards in there, too. Discards.
I'm not sure why these stories always go this way, but writing them makes me even sadder than thinking of them.
Maybe it's an explanation of why I write about dicks and poop so much.
Of course, I know that I am both Sally and Jimmy.
Anyway, maybe I'll figure out a way for Sally to have a realistic happy ending. Jimmy is probably fucked.