Things I Tell Myself So I Can Sleep
Burning shafts of light peak through the half open glass door. The breeze is barely enough to flutter the leaves of the fruitless trees outside. Needless to say, the stuffy air in my little apartment is going to stay that way. Sitting near the open door, I watch the orange and pink colors disappear into the soon-to-be blinding light of another August morning. The dawn of another day of unemployment.
And I thought things were tight before I got fired.
Pouring a last cup of coffee, I’m still unsure how to find a way through this financial meltdown. There are no bail-outs for me. I’ve spent the last few days ignoring all calls and my voicemail’s almost full. Bill Collectors won’t leave me alone. They don’t seem to understand that I don’t bank with the Fed Reserve—I can’t print my own money.
I have to wait six months to file Bankruptcy again. I’m too broke to do it now, anyways.
Abi’s definitely mad at me. I haven’t returned her calls, either. How am I going to look at her and tell her what happened: that I lost another job and kissed another girl? She’s not going to believe that both happened against my will. I can already feel her disappointment.
My dad keeps calling, too, but I don’t know how to tell him what has to happen next. I keep hoping courage will come with the next cup of coffee but it’s gone and I’m still empty.
I’ve searched the usual websites, filled out an e-app for every listed opening of every job at every chain store and restaurant within twenty miles, even at a few places in the mall. All that’s left to do is hope my stock has not plunged so low that no one will hire me. It will make the impending conversation with my dad much easier if I can tell him I’ve got prospects.
My dad’s a difficult man. He’s good, but difficult. He’s always been there for me when I needed him, but maintains a general disappointment with my choices. He thinks, like I do, that by the age of thirty, a man ought to have something to show for himself. A house, a car, a job, a family—any one of them would do.
The closest thing I have to representation of manhood is a near negative credit score. My car is sitting downstairs, deserted beneath the carport. The once-white windshield visor, now yellowed with age, obscures the brand new stereo and navigation system I bought with last years’ tax return. I would’ve spent it on a new transmission, had I known. The brand new tires are still intact, which is good in case I need to tow it to Abi’s house.
I’ve gone over and over my options. No matter how I slice it, things are not looking good. Option one: I pay rent in my place and dads, using up most of my savings—any chance of fixing my car this year goes bye-bye—and hope to have a job and paycheck before I need to pay rent again. In the mean time, I fall behind in the more important bills like utilities, groceries, and communication. I end up broke. Option two: Pay only dad’s rent and stay here as long as I can, face other problems listed in option one but he gets to stay put a little longer. Best case scenario: I’m the only one living on the street next month. Then there’s option three: Pay nothing—except the cell phone, of course—save as much as I can and see about moving in with Abi.
All contingencies are deeply flawed because no matter what I do, if I don’t find work right away I lose my apartment two months shy of the end of my lease.
A huge yawn forces me to close my eyes. I stand to stretch, stiff from sitting so long.
The more I think about it, the more sense it makes to simply move in with Abi. She rents one side of a duplex with a two-car garage. With her family’s money she could afford more, but she prefers to live a separate existence. ‘To remain independent from their wealth and the submission that goes with it’ is very important to her, so she says. I think she’s going through a slum phase.
We’ve been together for a little over two years, but haven’t really talked about a future so I’m not sure how to start the conversation. Telling the truth is out—Abi’s kind of sensitive about her boyfriend kissing other women and she’s had the same job as long as I’ve known her. We used to work together, that’s how we met. She was the hostess who took my application. A few weeks later, I suggested quitting so we could date. Five jobs later, I’m unemployed and she’s a restaurant manager. No, the truth will only make things worse. If I tell her, she may break up with me, and as it stands between us now . . . I’m pretty sure she’d let me move in if I asked. If I can figure out how to face her.
What am I going to tell my dad?
Worry pools in my stomach, cramping it up as a sense of urgency overtakes me. It very rarely happens—when I get an inclination over something I don’t understand—but I almost always regret not heeding the warning, the same kind I feel now. It says I’ll have to leave this apartment quickly and it’s crucial to be prepared.
There was a pile of empty boxes out by the dumpster yesterday. Standing on the balcony, I look down and see that there are still two decent sized ones left. It’s not enough, but it’s enough to start.
Clearing the shelves nearly fills the first box. There’s one framed picture hanging on the wall. An old disposable camera in the kitchen, I grab those and toss them in. I have no idea what’s on the camera—I’m not even sure how it got here but better to take it with me then to remember later on and regret leaving it. Next, I gather a few select DVD’s—namely my boxed set of the television series Lost, because my dad gave it to me. It’s really not my thing but we used to watch it together.
I have very few childhood keepsakes, but the ones I do are precious. I dig them out from the bottom of my closet—one of Carrie’s baby blankets and her first rattle, a silver-plated hair brush set my mother bought for her—reminiscing over each piece as I stuff it away.
Little more than an hour passes before I’m in the carport staring into my cars’ open door at the grey leather interior of my ’97 BMW five-series. Truthfully, the sight is a little depressing. Not only because it’s so sleek and isn’t drivable but also because everything I value in this life fits into two boxes stacked in the back seat. I pop the trunk and shove them deep into the furthest corner, where I won’t have to look at them.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for insolvency; having nothing makes it easy to move.
I leap back up the iron staircase and into my front door. Sitting down on the futon couch, an overwhelming lethargy hits me like a brick over the head. I surrender, thankful for the opportunity to pass time unaccounted.
One good thing about unemployment is having nowhere to go. I plan on taking advantage while I can.
The caffeine must have worked its way into my subconscious because I remember my dream with complete clarity. It was so vivid, like I was really there. I was playing guitar for a stadium full of people. I was rich and famous and everyone loved me.
Waking up to this hole is the nightmare. It makes me wish I listened to my dad and finished college. I really thought I had a future in music when I quit, though. I was going to show the world what I could do.
Looking back it seems pitiful, even a tad ironic. But at the time, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me—not my father, or friends, or the countless doors being slammed in my face, not even common sense. Then, one day I put off rehearsal to work because I wanted a new amp, which grew to cancelling gigs for money to cover other expenses; like a bigger apartment. That quickly turned into not being able to book gigs because I couldn’t afford not to work.
Who knew losing sight of a passion could happen so quickly?
I was sure I was destined for greatness. I love music. If only I could make her love me back.
Yes, nothing like a good dream to send my perception into the toilet.
The depressing apartment is too quiet. Not having anywhere to go gets old once you’re caught up on sleep.
Checking my voicemail—it’s been long enough, maybe there’s a message from a potential employer—I press seven to delete anything I don’t want and keep listening with fading hope. One message catches me by surprise. Her voice sounds small and unsure.
“Hi Gerry, this is Jeanine, your dad’s nurse.” I roll my eyes at the superfluous introduction. “I know it’s late, but I was hoping to catch you. Your dad is worried about you. He hasn’t said anything, but you know how he gets. He’s been real low since you left in such a hurry. Don’t tell him I called, okay? Bye.” BEEP
I’m dialing before I realize how late it is. A woman picks up on the first ring. “Golden Valley Retirement and Rehabilitation Center, Elizabeth speaking.”
“Yeah, I’m calling about my father, Mr. Springer.”
“We don’t put calls through to the rooms after nine, sir. You can speak to him in the morning after seven.”
“I know but, I was wondering. Is he doing okay? I got a call from his nurse, Jeanine, she’s worried about him.”
The morbid topic of our last conversation still pricks at my brain. I tell myself its nonsense, aiming to repress the memory until it’s forgotten.
“Jeanine is off tomorrow, but she will return the following day. Would you like to leave her a message?”
“No, thank you. Could you give my dad a message?”
“Yes, sir. What’s his room number?”
“One-thirty-seven. Tell him that Gerry called and I’ll be by on Wednesday morning.” If I go at my usual time, maybe he won’t get suspicious.
“Your message will be delivered with breakfast. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, that’s everything. Thank you.”
My dad resides in one of the only private rooms Golden Valley has to offer. They have a heated pool he can use anytime he wants, plus movies and games nights. He actually has a friend. He loves it there, as much as anyone as grumpy as he is can love anything. I don’t want to deprive him of the few things he enjoys.
That uneasy feeling is growing. It’s difficult not knowing what I’m facing, unable to control the outcome of something so important. I can’t stand the waiting so I figure I may as well get it over with.
Abi’s off work in three hours. That is, if she’s still on swing shift. I can’t imagine much has changed in the two days since we spoke. She’s texted me numerous times. I know she’s upset with me because the tone of them has been steadily increasing in agitation. The topic I have in mind requires a real conversation, though. I skip to her last message and respond; typing that I’m jumping in the shower and heading over. I’ll be there by the time she gets home from work.
Travel by night is much better. It’s quiet and cool, almost cold inside. The bus is still crowded, but there are a few open seats. I find the one nearest the back. I don’t much care for public transportation—travelling by bus in L.A. is ridiculous—but try and get what I can out of it. This bus is one of the extra long models with an accordion area in the center. It bends as it turns, slinging the back end around the corners. It’s immature, but I get a kick out of it, especially when the driver’s going a little too fast. If the back is full, I usually stand in the center, surrounded by the black accordion rubber. The floor there moves independently from the rest of the bus so it’s almost like being on a merry-go-round on the turns. I pass the time looking out the window, watching the lights from skyscrapers blur and change as we sail toward the suburbs.
Abi lives in a better neighborhood. So, I’m surprised to see the broken streetlamp in front of her house when I walk up. Red flickers off the small shards of glass beneath the post as I smoke. The sounds of music and laughter sail from down the street. After a cautionary knock on her door I take my seat on the small steps to wait. The moon is high and bright. There are no stars or clouds—everything above is dulled by smog and light pollution.
Burning away the time, trying not to think, I’m careful to bury my cigarette butts in the empty planter. Abi hates it when I leave them in the gutter. By the time I finish the fourth, her uneven headlights are coming up the street and I make a mental note to pick up a pair of new headlamps for her. I’ll need to replace them before the one burns out.
I’m nearly blinded by the beams as they sweep over me, shocking my retinas as her car maneuvers into the driveway.
I rush over, opening the door for her.
“Now, that’s service.” She smiles pleasantly, feigning shock at my chivalry.
“I missed you.” She is so beautiful. Every time I see her, it’s a knock-out punch.
“Why didn’t you call?” She hands me her purse before getting out.
“I was asleep.” I reach around to unlock the back door where she has several more bags.
“For thirty-six hours?”
“Maybe. How was work?”
“Awful. Two of my servers were no-shows so I got stuck waiting tables and still had to finish the daily totals before I left. I had, literally, no food in the house so I swung by the store, too. My feet are killing me. Have you been waiting long?” She steps out barefooted. Her feet are just as perfect as her face: proportioned nicely to her slender legs, not too big, not too small. No roman-toe. Simple nude polish adorns the end of each. Her small hands are holding a pair of pointy high heels.
“Not long.” I smile though the impending conversation makes me wish for laryngitis.
This is my Abi. For some unknown reason she loves me. Still, it’s a fight to keep from breaking into a cold sweat as we make our way inside. I don’t want to tell her. She won’t understand.
In effort to calm myself I consider how she’s always lecturing me about honesty. I know that if the situation were reversed, she would definitely tell me. And I would believe her. That’s when the fear really kicks in. Blood pumps mega-phone loud inside my ears.
She won’t believe me.
She’ll leave me.
Once the bags are on the counter I take a step back and a deep breath. I hate it when she gets mad at me and she’ll be furious.
Fear is a strange emotion. It can make you stop. It can make you bolt. It can make you mute, and it can make you say things—anything—to try and change your situation.
“Abi, would you marry me?”
Abi stops and I know I blew it. I’ve said it and I blew it! Here is where I screwed up everything. The plane has left the runway and it’s a one way flight ending in a nose dive.
Abi’s hand is clamped on a stack of diet frozen dinners. Both are shaking.
My tongue feels swollen. “I-I mean, would you . . .?” My hands are sweating as I take the cold cardboard packages from her and set them on the counter, keeping her hand in mine.
“Why would you ask me that?” Her tone is not quite as gentle as I expect. In fact, it’s very near harsh. Maybe she’s in shock? I know I am, but I would rather jump in with her than risk losing my chance.
“That’s not an answer.”
Her eyebrows scrunch together. “G, how long have we been together?”
I’m drawing a blank. “Doesn’t matter. It’s long enough for me to know that you are perfect, and way too good for me. I should lock you up before you realize it, too.”
She shoves me back. “Get out of my house!”
“Ab, what did I do?”
“You’ve never even asked what I want for my birthday and now you want to marry me?”
“You have expensive taste.” Has my voice always been so high-pitched?
“Do you think I’m stupid?” Her face scrunches.
“What? No, of course not.” Though I have to admit to myself that sometimes I wish she was. Then I wouldn’t have to worry that one day she’ll wake up and realize she’s over her slum phase.
“You quit your job again, didn’t you?”
“No!” That much is true.
“I can’t pay your rent.”
“I think you mean ‘won’t.’” I’m the king of saying stupid things at the exact wrong time. Lucky me, Abi’s too busy yelling and doesn’t hear.
“I cannot believe you quit another job! How could you be so irresponsible?”
“I did not quit. I’m not a complete idiot. I was fired.” I start out strong, but by the end, I’m mumbling.
“Why?” She stretches out the word, somehow making it more meaningful, her arms impatiently folded.
“You assume it’s my fault. Of course.” I toss my hands dramatically; knowing that it was completely my fault, but she and I have had this conversation so many times my reaction is knee-jerk.
I answer, clearly mocking the tone of her question. “We were robbed and Ahmed was already having money problems so he had let me go.”
She gasps. “Robbed? Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
Right away, my beautiful Abi proves me right. She’s placed her faith in me by assuming there was a weapon involved. She hears that one word, robbed, and her fear for my safety has her zooming from fighting position right back into my corner.
And why shouldn’t she assume? This is Los Angeles; it is a dangerous place, rife with violence and street gangs. She’s probably picturing menacing thugs with hard faces and sawed off shot guns.
She sets her hands so tenderly on my face. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve her.
“I’m fine, Ab.”
“You are supposed to do exactly what you’re told. How could Ahmed fire you for that? He can’t expect you to fight someone with a gun.”
There it is: that unyielding support. She keeps it ever-ready, always pouring it on when I need it. Usually, it’s my greatest comfort. But right now, as I am caught post-proposal, jobless and in need of her support more than ever before, the fear of losing her—of disappointing her—is too real. Too big a risk.
Like the selfish bastard I am, I calculate the odds of Abi finding out what really happened against the chance of coming up with a more believable alternative, versus simply coming out and telling her the whole, ugly truth while she waits for a sign agreement.
If I follow along and fill in the blanks, Abi’s more likely not to question anything. Then again, Sharif, Ahmed’s nephew, will definitely find out, if he hasn’t already. His sister, whose name escapes me, is close friends with Abis’ cousin, Angie. There’s no question that if Angie finds out, she will tell Abi. But will Sharif tell his sister? Will she make the connection and if she does, will she tell right away? Will Sharif tell her right away? I don’t know how close the two are or how often they talk. I’m not even sure if they live in the same house.
But I do know Abi. She’ll go to the mat defending me. She will require details, too. Another thing to consider: if I give some contrived explanation and she finds out that I lied, she’ll be beyond pissed.
But if I tell her the truth, she’ll never forgive me.
My stomach turns as I consider going forward. If I let Abi lead the explanation . . . If I make sure I’m already moved in . . . it will be that much more difficult for her to break it off. There’s my insurance: moving in. And I’ve already asked her to marry me.
I’ll have to lay the ground work, keep her from her friends for a few days while I try to make this up to her. Do something nice for her, something romantic.
“There were three of them. One was a woman.” Keeping things nearest the truth, my eyes are wild, expressing all the fright I feel, but concealing the roots.
The lies pour out without further thought. “They said they would kill me. I thought they would. I was so scared I’d never see you again. That you would never know . . .” and choke into silence.
It’s scary how good I am at lying at the drop of a hat, and right into the face of the one girl that is most important to me. I’m offering the perfect explanation for my unexpected proposal and am riddled with guilt but it doesn’t show in my face. This is the biggest lie I have ever told, but if she buys this story, doubting my sincerity won’t even occur to her. Her romantic mind will delve right into: G has faced death and all he thought of was me.
I did think of her, so that part is true. The rest is more like a mile-long stretch of a very subjective truth. Right?
“You’re with me now.” Her eyes fill as she sets her head on my shoulder.
Alright, so I’m the world’s biggest douche. But I really do love her. Not only that, I need her. We’d probably end up getting married down the road, anyways. Really, this is only moving us a little faster. This way, at least, we both get what we want and no one gets hurt. Actually, I may be the one bearing the cross here, because I have to deal with her mother for the rest of my life.
“Would you marry me, Abi?” It’s scary how much I want her to accept.
“Of course,” her face lights with that gorgeous grin that erases every other thought.
There are only my hands in her hair, my lips on hers, and our hearts beating.
When I wake, the bright light seeping through the window combined with the hum of the air conditioner tells me it’s late. We talked endlessly last night, about everything except the robbery. She never asked, I never offered. The exact subjects were indistinguishable, flowing from one to the next without effort. Abi can’t keep a secret to save her life—one of the things I love about her, even though it means we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about her friends. It was the kind of girlie communiqué she loves, but I owed her and so I didn’t change the subject once we got onto it. I had a hard time staying awake near the end but did manage to stay up longer than her. Brownie points for me, because I’m usually the first one out when she starts on the latest episode of Vampire Diaries.
Abi’s side of the bed is cold and empty. I’m disappointed to have missed her waking up; she’s most beautiful first thing in the morning. When she’s convinced her breath smells too much for a kiss and her hair is a mess. But she’s left a note on her pillow:
G – I got called into work. I’ll be back around 4. We can move some of your stuff in today. Make arrangements to have your car towed first. I’ll bring boxes to your place and we can get started. I love you! –xoxo Abi
There’s three little hearts drawn after her name. She’s happy and that makes me happy.
A sweet smell wafts into the room from the hall. Following my nose, I spot the full pot of coffee and move toward it. Next to the pot is another note tucked beneath a new ashtray:
Breakfast is in the microwave. You’re welcome.
Got to love her.
Inside is a large stack of pancakes. I rummage through the cabinets searching for the peanut butter and jelly. After the cakes are thoroughly smothered I sit down to eat and pass the time with Angry Birds and coffee. After a few victories, it’s time to move onto other things.
Joy becomes nearly uncontainable when I check my voicemail—I’ve got a job interview. It’s a scramble to find something to write with. All the pertinent information—phone number, street address, room number, and manager’s name. I also make notes about possible bus routes and times. After a few well deserved fist pumps, Abi gets the good news. We make plans to go out later. She reminds me of the dress clothes she bought for my birthday still hanging in her closet and says she’ll iron them for me to wear at the interview tomorrow morning. We say an oohy-gooey goodbye and hang up.
It’s amazing how much motivation lies in a single drop of hope. Finally, the fates are working in my favor.
I jump in the shower and dress in record time, making it to the bus stop just as it comes around the corner. Perfect timing. This is the way things are supposed to be. Had I known moving forward would feel so good, I might’ve tried it years ago.
Back at my apartment, getting all the essentials together is quick work. I toss them into the car making sure to pack it full. I want to get as much of my stuff to her place as possible.
There isn’t much left after the front and back seats are filled. I make sure to pack my laptop and most of my electronics on the floorboards of the backseat. My guitar and amp go in the trunk. On top of that I’m able to fit nearly all my clothes.
When I run back up the stairs and walk through the open door, the scant view shocks me. Not because I’m sad to leave the nearly empty apartment—which never had more than two sticks of furniture to begin with—more because, the scene brings a sense of familiarity, of rightness.
I’m on the right track.