“Josie, I’m sorry,” he said for the thousandth time. “Things just aren’t working out.”
My heart was being broken and I was reading a book. While he rattled off all the reasons why we couldn’t be together, I sat there with one ear on the phone, and my eyes on the pages of a book I had found in the basement of my house.
It was actually more like a diary than a novel. It was written by Janet Andrioli, who had apparently lived in my house almost two hundred years before I was born, way back near the turn of the 21st century. I was reading about her teenage years. Things were so different back then. Humanity had not traveled past the moon. Computers had required laborious typing to function; that seems so mediocre compared to the ones we have today, where you can give them voice commands. And people couldn’t interact with their televisions; I couldn’t live like that!
It’s really incredible to see how far society has advanced. Back then, they went to schools with desks and teachers who were people. Now we students just all congregated at the local Learning Lab and sat in our assigned cubicles in different wings on different days to learn our various subjects. There we were hooked up to electrodes that fed knowledge from InfoMaster machines into our brains with electro-chemical impulses. These Learning Labs, however, were just as much a social center for youths as those schools were back then. Maybe it’s human nature. We took 30-minute breaks after every 2-hour session, in order to recover and begin assimilating all we’d learned, and to avoid a stimulation overload in our brains. That’s when the laughter, the teasing, the romances, the fights and the friendships all begun. The hour-long lunch break was the prime time for socializing.
The thing that really surprised me though, was that they didn’t even have hand-held video-phones two centuries ago. The technology of the phones was so simple that I could almost understand it, almost. I was usually a technology dummy. I had the video part disconnected for this call because I did not want him knowing I was reading a book while he was breaking up with me; he’d think I was cold.
Really, I didn’t even know why I was reading. There were some real long periods of silence where it seemed he didn’t know what to say and expected me to talk. I was really too upset to say anything, though. The silences were so uncomfortable that I couldn’t just sit there and listen to dead air, and the book just happened to be beside me on my bed, so I picked it up and began reading. While it did help me escape those long wordless minutes, it could not stop the tears.
“Josie, please stop crying,” he pleaded. I put the book down to listen to him. “I’m not trying to hurt you, really. It’s just not working out anymore. Please stop. I can’t stand to hear you cry.”
Then don’t leave me! I wanted to scream for the entire world to hear, but I couldn’t. I could barely talk at all. “I can’t help it,” I managed to say, though I doubt it was loud enough for him to hear. Another long silence ensued. I began to read Janet’s diary again.
Conflicting emotions were having a very violent battle to the death inside my head. I could never tell which was winning. This was not one of my best days.
The phone call dragged on. He told me how he cared about me and wanted to be a part of my life, but that things just weren’t working in our relationship. I just kept on reading. Now I didn’t even stop when he talked. Janet Andrioli was just more interesting. Actually, that wasn’t true. Janet just couldn’t break my heart, so I preferred her.
After saying a tearful goodbye, we finally hung up. Then I stopped reading. God, this was so painful. Fresh hot tears streamed down my face. The last thing I wanted to do was cry, but I couldn’t help myself. My angel, the boy I breathed for, didn’t want me anymore. Such a common and clichéd cause of woe-Janet wrote about heartache regularly and that was centuries ago-but knowing that didn’t stop it from hurting like hell, not at all.
What was wrong with me? Was my nose too big? Maybe he really didn’t like girls with short hair. Maybe he preferred brown eyes over blue.
I sighed heavily. I knew it wasn’t my physical appearance that pushed him away. No, it was just me. When we really started to get to know each other, at the beginning of the Educational Quarter in February, I had been at a relatively high point in life. However, since then, things have drastically gone downhill, well except for when we began seeing each other a week later. I had trouble with my father, who kept inviting me to do things with him and then canceling at the last minute in order to spend quality time with his new girlfriend. My aunt Hilda died-of laughter no less. I’d been so close to Hilda; her death was still fresh and painful. I had lost the chance to attend a prestigious art institution which I’d really been counting on. I love art because it’s the one thing that’s not computerized or electronic. I began to get in a lot of arguments with one of my best friends, Ray Ann Reynolds. She wasn’t speaking to me at the moment. I knew it wouldn’t last, though. It never does. She needs me too much. (We always joke about being secret lovers, although in reality we’ve never even bugged). And just to make my life even more pleasant, my morn had “accidentally” found and read my journal. Now she was under the impression that I was in dire need of psychiatric help, just because there had been a few poems about death. Okay, so there had been more that just a few, but who’s counting? I’m certainly not. When I told her they were more figurative than literal, and that I wasn’t that morbid, she didn’t believe me. The parental trust I was feeling was simply overwhelming.
Suffice to say I was a mess, one big bundle of erupting depression. Of course then I, being my generous self, tried to give Arden some of my pain. I kept calling him to whine and complain about the cruelties of life and I suppose I was bringing him down with me. I knew I was being so moody and so stubborn in my gloomy ways that I was pushing him away and making it hard for him to deal with me.
That didn’t curb the fact that I assumed we were destined to be together forever, though. When he didn’t call as much, or barely at all, I figured he was just too busy, and I’d stay up late each night to paint dark and deranged pictures and write my disturbed poetry-more stuff for my morn to feed to the mental institutions, served on a special silver platter just for her.
I’d always hoped, though, that Arden would stand by me through this tough time and help me get through it, until one day I’d be happy again. I guess a tiny part of me believed he could fix everything, maybe more than a tiny part. Now I knew, though, that my only hope was only an illusion. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise. After all, who wants to date a mental case?
As I was in the middle of my deep contemplation of life, the video-phone in my hand shrieked. I was so startled that I jumped, screamed and threw the phone on the floor. Sheepishly I reached over and picked it up. The display read “JOSIE STRUTHERS” so I knew it wasn’t a call for my mother, or for my eight-year-old brother, Allan. I switched it on.
“So have you talked to Pretty Boy today?”
Great, I thought. Just what I needed to hear. It was my best guy friend, Seth. He had never-ending desires for me. He called Arden Pretty Boy because he thought Arden’s good looks were what made me prefer him. In reality, I just couldn’t date Seth because he was one of my best friends. We were always teasing, mocking and playing practical jokes on one another. He was more like a brother to me and there’s no way I’d date my brother! Besides, he’s just a tad too clingy and possessive for my tastes, not that I could really be the one to talk.
“Yeah, we talked all right. Sadly, Pretty Boy doesn’t think I’m a pretty girl anymore.”
“Woo hoo!” Seth whooped. “Ain’t life grand?” I could tell he was dancing around the room even though the video connection was still off. He did nothing to hide the fact that he thought I would fall for him if Arden weren’t around.
“Yeah, that just sums up my life in three words-a grand canyon of despair perhaps.”
“I’m sorry Josie. I know you must be in a lot of pain, but remember that it won’t last forever, and then we can go out! And we’II celebrate how grand life really is.”
God, does he frustrate and annoy me! “I’m sorry, Seth, I don’t see that happening in the near future, or far future for that matter.” Suddenly very serious, I tried hard to choke back tears. “I don’t see myself getting over him at all. I feel, well I feel as though something’s died inside of me.”
“I know,” Seth said, now compassionate. “I’ll stop teasing you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here for you.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s just that I don’t think anything will comfort me. The worst part is, I know I’ll see him at Learning Lab and it will be so hard to face him. I won’t know how to act or what to say around him. I’ll probably end up avoiding him. Seth, I feel like a 13-year-old girl again, except this is worse now, more painful.” I paused. Seth remained silent, so I continued. “What did I do? Is it because I’m depressed? Do I need to be all happy and smiley for him to want me? Goddamn him! He just doesn’t want to deal with someone who has problems in life. He wants people who can pretend everything is fine and peachy. That’s crap. That’s not fair. He could have had the balls to tell me that rather than ‘it’s just not working out.’ He could have at least given me a second chance or talked to me about the problem before he dumped me. Did he forget how special our relationship was? How great things were at the beginning? He could have at least tried to salvage it.” I took a deep breath after my tirade. “Okay, I’m done; you can talk now,” I told Seth meekly, waiting for his response.
“I don’t know what to say. I wish there were something I could do to help. Do you want me to call Pammy? You probably want to talk to her, right?”
“Yeah, whatever. You know she’s probably engaged in intimate conversation with John. And if she’s not, all we’II hear about is the last time she was. Damn, I hate happy couples. Unless, of course, I’m part of one. I don’t really have to worry about that possibility now though, do I?” Pammy and John weren’t really such a great couple, but that was completely beside the point.
“Look, Josie, losing Arden is not the end of the world. You’II live, and you’II love again. I promise you that.”
“Like you can talk,” I retorted, referring to the fact that the first time I turned down a date with him was September and here it was April and he hadn’t given up yet. “Besides,” I continued, “if I do love again, I’ll only get hurt again.”
“I wouldn’t hurt you,” Seth said seriously. I should have expected that response. I had no clue what to say to him.
“I’ll stop,” Seth said after a brief silence. “Anyway, do you want me to go beat the crap out of Arden for you?”
“No, you’II take away all the fun! I want to do it myself! Of course in reality, if I ever got that close to him I’d probably just get on my knees and beg him to give me another chance and then smother him with kisses. I’m so pathetic.”
“No you’re not. I don’t know what to say to make you feel better, though. I really don’t. But if you need anything-and understand that a date is definitely included in this anything-then just let me know.”
“Thanks. It’s okay, though. I don’t need anything right now. Actually I should probably go. I really just want to go to sleep so that I can cast off my troubles, at least for a little while.”
“All right.” We hung up.
I walked listlessly around my room. My pale blue walls seemed unfamiliar, mocking. My usually soft carpet felt harsh beneath my feet. My shades were down so that I could not see the smiling sun.
I stopped in front of the mirror. I was not beautiful, yet I wasn’t completely hideous either. I just wasn’t unique. I looked so plain with my chin-length brown hair and boring blue eyes. My eyes were my biggest problem. They didn’t dance or sing, even on happy days. They had no special shine, no character, no sparkle. My skin was pretty clear, save for a few pimples. I was a little on the short side. My weight was average. I mean I wasn’t fat or anything, but I can assure you I’d never be a fashion model either. Sometimes I thought my face was a little too round.
But despite my criticisms, I knew I was not ugly. After all, Seth thought I was the object of supreme desire or something.
Seth Jerden, who would have ever thought he’d fall in love with me? I sure never did. When we’d been younger, during lunch hour, he used to chase me all over the Learning Lab building, trying to take my favorite toy frog that I carried everywhere away from me. His dirty-blonde hair flipped over his mischievous blue eyes as he grinned widely, running after me. As years passed, we became close friends.
And now? Well, I’m not quite sure what we were. Pawns in some screwed-up love triangle perhaps. And Seth still had that famous grin and those eyes that danced with wicked delight. Now his hair was shorter, spiked and dyed strawberry blonde. He had grown to be at least half a foot taller than me.
But it was not Seth’s face I wanted to think of, but Arden Cantrell’s. Arden, with his soft brown eyes and straight, shiny brown hair, parted in the middle. He always managed to look freshly showered, even when sessions at Learning Lab were finished and everyone else looked tired and frazzled from the overload of information from the electrodes. He was the epitome of human perfection, even his teeth were immaculate. His face appeared sculpted by a god with an extremely aesthetic eye. His smile was so warm; it made me feel special. The way his eyes focused on someone when he conversed with them made that person feel as though they were the center of his universe. You bet I loved it when he talked to me! Well, as long as it wasn’t to break my heart, that is.
And now I had to avoid him, after these three months of doing nothing but spending every free second with him or trying to catch a glimpse of his angelic face across Learning Lab during sessions. It was not a face one should be forced to avoid, but such was my luck. Such were the dirty tricks fate pulled.
Why had I ever even asked him out? Why had I believed I had a chance? I know who I am. I know how hard I am to deal with, so why did I even try? Because of my stupidity, it would now be too weird to just be his friend. If I hadn’t wanted to date him, we’d at least still have a great friendship. I had ruined everything. I had lost everything.
But even as I harassed myself so, I knew I would never regret the time we’d spent together, even if I would feel uncomfortable trying to act normal around him now. Even if my heart felt shattered. Even despite this empty feeling that was threatening to swallow me whole.
I got in bed with all these churning, disturbing thoughts in mind. I was too upset and emotionally drained to even write any sick poetry, but I was sure there would be plenty to write in the days to come, along with some weird paintings too.
I thought I would never be able to fall asleep, but after only a few torturous hours where I tossed and turned like I was caught in a cyclone, I finally slipped into oblivion. My dreams were anything but sweet.
Just like last week, this is a much older piece of writing. This is the first chapter of a novel I started writing as a senior in high school. I was going to call it Sunshower, named after the song of that same name by Chris Cornell on the Great Expectations soundtrack. In fact, if read you the memoir chapter “She’s a Girl Rising from a Shell” this is the writing project I was talking about in the middle of that piece. Oh and I should say, the year of its writing? 1999.
I conceived of and started writing this “book” after coming home from the Sophie Kerr weekend at Washington College.
- A Star is Born
- The Colors – Dark As Roses 1
- Psychedelic Strobe Lights – Dark As Roses 2
- Writing as Time Travel – Blue Alchemy 1
- She’s A Girl Rising From a Shell
- Story A Day May 2013 – Day 7: Quiet and noisy
- Report from Greenacre Literature Festival – 18th May 2013