Leaving: A Collaborative Story

Didn’t get a place in drama school. Failed to pass my driving test. Wasn’t chosen to go on the school ski trip or hockey trip. Couldn’t buy that blender.

 

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I look for meaning in everything when I have these crises of faith, searching for the deus ex machina in my life. The event which will turn things around or at least give me an answer. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in plot devices.

I walk around in my lunch break looking for an external impetus, just something to make my decisions easier, a person I don’t know to say something I can interpret as a sign or a reflection of my own unconscious desires. Where are you wise hobo? Where are you elderly woman with the bright red hair and the mystery bag of crap?

I hope upon hope for a stray cat or a piece of graffiti that will tell me everything is going to be just fine. I was never meant to be a dancer.

I was never meant to stay with any particular person, any of the five thousand before I was here, short relationship after short relationship. But there was never really five thousand you see, it was a private joke with my former love. I slept with as many as there were in this old parable. How about you? Ball park figure? If they were all animals and there was a flash flood and Noah came along with a ship, would they all fit on it?

 

The ending of something, it reminds me of trying to distract myself from tinnitus. It’s a dull ever-present hum in my ear, like a mosquito that flew into my brain. I can get use to it as long as I never let it be the only thing I can hear. I fill the silence with voices from the radio, and from friends, and with the conversations of strangers. I might take up zumba, or yoga or aura reading. Never poi. I try and fill uncertainty by looking in windows. I wonder, can I relate the ending of a cult TV series to the ending of relationships? It never really finishes; it just carries on in a lesser format…

I buy a coffee and think about wonder-woman for a while.

 

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There was a woman with plenty of deus ex machina moments. She never had to make any decisions, not really, just inevitable choices with there being only the illusion of choice. I never have anything occur which requires such gravitas self sacrifice.

I walk around for hours, considering. Do I pull the plug? Do I funnel a different path? Do I confront a former husband/lover/friend? Do I quit my job in legal and become a cage fighter? Do I put my eggs in storage? Do I move south for winter?

I was getting really thirsty, close to vomiting or collapsing after walking in the sun. I spotted a water fountain outside a library. I can never work water fountains. In a past life I had no opposable thumbs. I feel every bump and crevice and ridge and push down hard, but there is no spurting forth of the elixir of life.

An elderly man wearing a blue hat watched my struggle for a while, my iphone in one hand, my oversized headphones hanging around my sweaty neck. I will forget to exfoliate this neck later, no doubt. He reached over and pushed the small button to the right of the stainless steel cube, and yes, water flowed.

“Its amazing how they get those computers to be so small,” he said, gesturing at my iphone before shuffling away. No doubt to change a tire. Wait, come back? Was that a moment? What shall I do with my life? I stare after him. He shuffles away, his back and blue shirt lovingly sticking together, glued with sweat. He doesn’t turn around, he is meant to turn around and nod. Knowingly. Mouth at me that he isn’t God. He is just a piece of good timing. He is meant to get hit by lighting. Instead he presses a traffic light and waits for it to turn red. I have to go back to work, but for some reason I want to make sure he gets to the other side of the road first. So I wait.

I want my lunch hour to transcend time. I could walk the streets by my offices for hours; really get the lay of the concrete, find the bench with the most splinters, try out all the different bakery’s and tapas bars and coffee shops and soup huts offering lunch fare. Explore all my opinions and rule out any sliding doors moments. This is living dangerously now. Entering the food places I so often avoid through fear of the difference between the distance of the peas in their pea soup and my usual pea soup. I admire the pale blue sign and apple chancery font of Feast as I walk by and I’ll admire it every day until the day I die and I wonder why I never just went in and just asked to sample their pea soup.

 

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I’ll wait until someone special urges me to go in there.

I was waiting for you to suggest it, prove to me that you were much braver then I, much more likely to court fun and give me permission to let go. We walked past it often enough. It was the perfect meeting place, equal distance between my job and yours. I would comment on it often enough, “Oh look, look at the people inside, they seem satisfied gastronomically,” but you would stare straight ahead. “Don’t deviate from the plan Ellis.”

My name isn’t Ellis. But you loved to call me Ellis. Something about a private joke you had with your mother about a psychic she saw, how you would somehow end up with a Ellis. A very specific piece of foretelling.

I pass a couple tearing bread apart. They each use their fingers to describe what they would like to do to each others flesh, and I look away as butter drips down her skinny arm and he licks it off. I am in front of my building again. I stand in front of my building. I don’t want to return to my building, but I circled and found myself back where I started, as if getting to far away would propel me off the map. The building I find myself in front of. It is too solid; a glass prism with wide-open space everyone is so lucky to have, such a wonderful space in the middle of a city, the ribs pulled apart to reveal a large gap where a lung use to be. I don’t want to enter, for entering means nothing has changed.

You cannot be an introvert. You can only be rude. Be an introvert on your own time, do not withhold that smile around the staff toilets or water cooler because your smile is not your own. It is a gift for others and you cannot hold it to ransom, other people try so hard to coax it out of you, you must declare it for their effort. I wonder what would happen if walked into the glass door and knocked myself out? Got blood all down the front of the precious glass face, which contains so many little, beating hearts.

Would this be giving up, more so then jumping in a cab and going somewhere new? Or would it be more honest then escaping? At least one gets you attention, the other just gets you reprimanded. ‘They just left.’ But no one just leaves. So scenario a) is doing something out of kilter to indicate the inside hurt. “Oh they were bleeding internally. But, emotionally.”

But If I walked into the glass and knocked myself out -would they hide the tear and snot stained crumpled tissues that fell out of my pocket, as I lay motionless on the sidewalk? Or the chocolate muffin, now reduced to crumbs. If they knew I had spent my lunch hour walking to a particular shop to buy this particular muffin from a particular neighbourhood as a particularly strong gesture to you.

 

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(A split screen: You would turn around at your best friends house, upturned nose in the air, sniffing the fragments of a destroyed weakness of yours. Yes, I destroyed it for you, one less chocolate muffin in the world for you to eat bitch)

Or would they just sigh at the inconvenience and roll me into the stationary cupboard. It was bad enough when I forgot how to speak in the middle of a presentation because I knew you were leaving me. It was the way you lingered over the bread machine. You loved that machine, but you had never stopped to anthropomorphism it before.

 

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I know the case. The case is they would love it if I ran into the door. They would loose a half hour of work to the collective thrill of someone else’s public meltdown, something to talk about, a sense of relief at my mistakes vs. theirs and they would take such pride in spotting the signals, the way I chewed my lips, how you turned up at my office yesterday drenched, but normally you look so pristine.

The secretary looks up, her small eyes slanted as she looks through the glass to find me, hovering outside, wishing smoking was the reason for my hesitation. I have nothing to hide behind, and she has no reason to let me hide.

I have fallen in love with the sound of her heels, the dull thud of her square shoes as they batter the stairs, leaving little dents only the mice can dance in. I want to ask her if she knows she is making her movements known and if she likes people to prepare for her? I want to ask her if she likes creating anticipation or despair, or desire. She might ask a question no one knows the answer to. No matter the question. We dread not knowing the answer to any question, being caught out by another being unprepared for everything. Our mothers did not raise us well, they did not prepare us fully for that particular question… but didn’t we get a degree? I had fallen in love with the secretary but we never shared more then two words, and they were always the same. In the morning we acknowledged it was the morning, and in the evening we did the same in case the other had not noticed.

She was not the most attractive, in fact her lips had a prim quality to them, and her teeth could not quite contain themselves in her mouth, but she was unknown and one day I would ruin that by having a conversation with her.

I want to open my coat and show the secretary my unkempt pubic hair and chest. But instead I slink off, because I know you have left me. Oh yes. I just remembered.

I go into a nearby diner, the faux diner that is open all the time but is filled with no one from an authentic diner. Why didn’t they ship out those old mid western gals, just to give the place the impenetrable smog of too much too soon? Everyone here has seen too much, or at least assumes they have. It is partially filled and I slip into a red booth, wondering if I do really want to eat eggs. I always order eggs, because that is what I do at a diner, even though I rarely want eggs past three o clock, but as soon as I am here I have to eat eggs. I don’t eggs. I don’t want them scrambled, or poached, or floating in a slimy viscous liquid with the pink sliver of a shell the chef saw but kept in out of despair at his reflection. The waitress comes over, her pink dungarees are snug, and her hair reminds me of squirrels.

 

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‘Two eggs scrambled, and a fruit cup.” I ask, with the urge to slip my hand up her leg, and ply her dungarees down, politeness dressed up in offence, which gives her a public anecdote and me, a private one.

I sit motionless, except for the breathing dipping in and out of my lungs, millions of cells dying and being re born, and I have a vision of the old man again. Stuck on the other side of the road, watching you crawling across it. Your legs are broken, and you are trying to get safely to the other side. You are wearing your favourite black dress, so fancy for this time of day, and you are sweating in agony as you shift your body weight from side to side, desperate to get to the safety of the pavement before the artillery trucks are let free from their pen. Shall I let them free?

I have had many jobs, lived many lives, but I know one thing for certain. It is harder to leave then be left. I almost admire you. You had to take action, make the decision and change the path we were floundering down. Oh, what could have been, the children’s faces, can you see them? I can seem the wide bridges of their noses, your favourable blue eyes; I can see their large feet in the whites of my eggs. Thank you for my eggs soaked in so much butter that my eyes water and a fruit cup made mostly of melon. Thank you.  I made the wrong decision about lunch. I should have taken someone special to feast. But I get to sit here alone, and let movements take place around me. I feel the direction and pull, and fantasies and groundwork I laid in my head becoming unpinned. I close my eyes and imagine a tornado sweeping through the suburban town we lay down our roots, our front porch spinning into the vortex and the dog sinking into the lawn as ornaments shatter. I sit here, and de piece the puzzle, and pull apart the threads which linked our future, the images behind my eyes moments before sleep.

You had to make the decision, but my decision was made for me. There is so little effort required in being left.

I can ask for sympathy for upwards of six weeks and when I have exhausted that, when my friends and colleagues and parents are sick of your red eyes, and then I start again. I will be without guilt, and I will be wronged. You villain! We had a plan! We had a joint bank account! We had matching tattoos on our ankles, each others initials scarred into our flesh!

 

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I hate to leave. I always want to be abandoned. When I left to go on holidays, work events, weekends away, trips I had planned long before I met you, I realised how much easier it was for you. You could sit at home and bid me farewell and I was meant to be escaping, but all I felt was your lack. I was meant to be exerting my independence from you, leaving for a moment of joy and elation, but all my previous moments of celebration involved your presence. I was meant to be appreciating the more extravagant things in life, the fun of the planned event, the furthest thing away from work and routine, but you were not there. I was having ‘fun’ but the person who was inside me more then outside was not there, and everything is marked by their lack. And you knew that, you knew that. I would ring you from hotels with the view of a mountain caked in snow; a warm alcoholic drink intoxicating me, and my voice would catch. ‘Are you having fun?” You would ask, a smile playing on your lips because you knew my weakness, and my weakness was you, I was addicted to you. ‘Yes, ‘ I would say, ‘but…” and they I would let off ream about ream of ill favoured bitter comments about my company, whose faults were only that they were not you, and I resented them for expecting so much normality from me. To be the one at home who does not have expectations of their time apart, how fortunate you were. I was expected to be happier then normal, otherwise I was wasting my time, my hours, my money, my leisure time had taken me into a nightmarish situation were I felt shame about missing you.

The umbilical chord that I had not realised was there stretched my stomach muscles taunt. And it ripped at my guts every time I make a joke you would have loved, every time I assembled clothes you would have appreciated, every corner of meat which your palate would have appreciate more then the bland face in front of mine. My best friends, Toni, Steven, anyone, the face of the person I cannot rest easiest with. Friends are not lovers, lets not kid ourselves. I needed you to feel more joy then I did before, and that’s what all self-respecting people who ever had therapy are meant to rebel against. You must be alone, grateful for company, but it is not yours to keep. You will remain alone. Things you could experience independently are not as fun, but yet you are meant to be having as much, if not more, fun then your everyday life. So you’re counting down the days for the everyday with their presence in it. The person left gets to appreciate this. Things for them remain the same, except they get to appreciate the absence, get the head space, and imagine that whilst your re having fun, they know. They know that homesickness, and lack of the familiar is scarier then the comforts of a familiar tongue.

My eggs remain untouched. It would serve you right if I starved to death.

 

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I am now two hours and fifteen minutes over my lunch hour, and as that number increases I become more fearless. 26.2 million Russian soldiers died in World War Two, a number too high to process, if less had died then the imagined grief for their widows might be a tad more palpable. If only they had filled a baseball field.

My Great Uncle James ran into a bus when I was 15. He was trying to tell a woman on board she had left her wallet in his store, and the driver braked at the same time James swerved to avoid a bicycle. He didn’t see the bus brake and hit the back hard, but not hard enough to kill him, only hard enough to put him in a coma for six months. Then he died. All because he wanted to give a woman her empty wallet. Turns out she was too lazy to put it in the bin after she changed up her cards into a new one.

I didn’t cry. I spent more time with him in a coma then when he alive and I was relieved we didn’t have to sit in a hospital room, pretending he could hear us, anymore. “Can you hear us James?” all my aunts and uncles and cousins would holler. If he could then he would tell you to shut the fuck up, you patronising group of idiots. Why are you reading him these books? He never read. He is probably so bored he is just waiting for some junky nurse to accidentally smother him. You cannot imagine all those Russian Soldiers in lines, or groups or filling up a room.  I could not imagine James doing anything then being motionless and cold and unconscious.  Death seemed logical for him.

The gap increases, and I watch my clock, I watch another minute tick by. I see the waitress change over. I still don’t touch my eggs, but every time they come over I make it seem like I might, I just might. I am building up to the egg battle. They are stone cold now. My phone rings, and startles me.

The phone is not you. It is the person who sits at the desk opposite me. Someone has finally noticed my absence. I am insulted it is so late. I hang up the phone. Serves them right if they think I have killed myself. How awkward for the company.

It does not matter what I do for a living, you should only know it is necessary for the world to turn in a completely inconsequential way. There is no primitive directive for what I do. It doesn’t save lives; it saves time. Like a thousand desk jobs, I have to make a thousand spread sheets to make sure normality reigns. If something goes wrong, a fire extinguisher explodes, or a delivery is later or mislaid or you have a menu with the incorrect font, then a monkey at a desk screwed up a spreadsheet somewhere.

 

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I leave the diner.

I leave no tip but I leave my phone next to my untouched eggs and fruit cup.

I have never felt so alone.

I am being dramatic with my thoughts. I grind the chocolate muffin into particles as I cross the street. I am heading to a bar. The worse bar I can find.

I have felt more alone.

When we shared a bed, and things were not good. When you wanted to have a child and I did not. When you accused me of being passionless, and I thought that’s what you are for. When you told me about a 75 year old woman who wondered into your office looking for a job, and you started to cry so I tried to initiate sex, and you asked me “what the hell is wrong with you?”

I found the bar.

 

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And I found the people – it felt homely because we’d all been through the same and we were all there on our own. You don’t drink before three unless you have champagne, and if you don’t have champagne then you don’t have anything to celebrate.

The walls are covered in posters – of bands, of shows that you never went to. Years out of date, I wonder if anything still happens in this bar. Whether the passion left these people with their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and husbands. But what about those years when music did fill the walls, sound pushing against the ceiling, trying to get out but held in this space, buzzing around the heads of those inside. Did they have posters for shows of the past then?

I like to think that on a cycle of five years, the inhabitants and the owners would slowly lose interest, and the music would float away, until some young upstart comes in and shakes things up.

I could be that upstart. I consider leaving, going back out onto the street and returning with a better entrance – bounding through the saloon doors (they’d have to be saloon doors) with my short sleeves rolled up further, and my low trousers down lower – fashion, constantly trying to get further and further away from the genitals.

But I realise my reverie had stopped me in my tracks – somewhere between the door and the bar, in some kind of sticky, illuminated no mans land. Those that still had a level of curiosity were all looking up from their glasses in my direction. I left. My opportunity had passed and I’d have to return in five years. Though no longer a young upstart, my plan would have to change.

If an infinite number of monkeys worked on an infinite number of spreadsheets would the books eventually balance and I wouldn’t lose my job?

It doesn’t matter. I’m back in the office, 3 hours and 26 minutes after my lunch ended, and I didn’t lose my job. The phone call, from one of the infinite monkeys, was only to see if I wanted anything from the coffee machine – he’d presumed I was outside having a cigarette at the time. I’d quit smoking 8 months ago, an experience I felt he’d gone through with me, made it a little frustrating.  I’d turn up to work in odd shoes, one shoe, no shoes, and eventually sandals. My hair was always swept back exposing my thumping temples as blood threatened through every second, minute of the day, to burst through the seams, spurting outwards and down my computer screen.

 

Everyone wants jam on their doughnut. That’s what I would have said if it had happened. A phrase too familiar – the pairing of jam and deep fried dough sparks the recognition in the brain, and by the time they realise it’s entirely nonsensical, the moment has almost passed to the point that for them to say anything, would make themlook stupid. Just laugh. That’s all we need you to do. Just laugh.

You don’t even have jam on a doughnut.

 

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But he’d forgotten. As you had. About me. Probably, presumably. At least, potentially.

I placed my bag on the desk, a faint scent of butter cutting through the air like an armpit on a warm and stressful day. I knew where the smell was coming from, and I was still considering the optimum time to make my next attempt to leave, to involuntarily expunge myself from the trauma of this place that I was being paid to die, slowly, in.

A little oil had started leaking from the corner of the bag. It’s now or never, I thought.

I mentally ran through the scenario in my head. I’d stand up, kick back my chair noisily, and hard enough that it would hit the person sat behind me, hard, spilling their cup of coffee over their hands and arms through which they’d let out a small, but uncontrollable yelp – high enough for everyone, or at least most of them to look up. It would be then that I thrust my hand deep inside the bag, grasping for the slimy yellow mixture, the scrambled eggs I couldn’t bring myself to eat in the diner – knowing they’d serve a higher purpose, are now in my hand. I think back to the scene in Animal House when Kevin Bacon aped John Belushi into a food fight in the cafeteria, but change my mind. This is no time for a food fight, and Kevin Bacon isn’t here to kick it all off. And part of me thinks the paring of my eggs to Kevin’s bacon would cheapen the whole gesture, which is what it was. This is me, offering you, the opportunity to let me leave.

Instead, I insert my other hand into the bag, grappling for yet more egg, and I pull out two handfuls and bring them up to my face, I mash the eggs into my cheeks, making circular motions so that the remnants would fall to the ground like heavy yellow snowflakes. I slowly bring my arms down, leaving greasy streaks down my neck. A large blob of egg falls onto my foot, by this time, bare. I do nothing, except think about whether I should have lit a fire in the basement and filled the sprinkler system with gravy to complete the scene.

 

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But that didn’t happen, I’m still daydreaming, and as I wake up, slumped in the corner of the diner where I’d been waiting for you to meet me for lunch – late as always, the eggs came, as did the fruit cup. I pushed them away as you came. You hadn’t left me, yet – but I still feel sad, because if you did, I’d have to go through this whole damn thing again.


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