Man in picture v2.0 The Sun Also Rises (chapter four)

Seven days a week.  At least five. I know all of their faces if not their names.  Nice kids.  As in far younger than me.  Kids.  Still wanting of the future.  Still aspiring.  Faces fresh, bodies able.  Willing and determined.  Full to spilling with hopes and dreams.  Goals.

They share them with me.  I kinda like that they do.  That they include me is flattering.  They tell me what they’re working on.  What they wish for.  What they’re working towards.  What they hope.  I join them in all of that but I’m careful what I say, I encourage but try not to advise too much.  Could be a slippery slope.

I imagine it means they estimate me to have a certain amount of wisdom, the benefit of age and experience.  I think they like me.

I hope they do.  I want for them to.

I remember when that was me.  I remember it.  It’s there,  I did it.  Maybe they see that.   Maybe I showed them that.  Maybe on days when I was happy and optimistic, they saw it.  I let them in and showed them my enthusiasm, because I’d realized my dreams and become who and what I wanted.  I drive a cool car.  It’s a nice neighborhood.  I’m an accomplished individual.  I’m a success.

Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I wish they would ignore me.  Sometimes they annoy me.  They are needy and shallow and ask me stupid questions.

They are bright and curious but shallow, inchoate.  I might not be the success I think I am.  I might be pretending.

It’s just fucking coffee.

This morning, they take stock of me sideways, glances, what might be a modicum of concern.  I don’t know.  Confusion.  Suspicion.  Fear.  All of the above, I’m not sure.  They see me every morning.  They understand something’s bad.  Wrong.  Been in there consistently for a few years now.  They see it.  I’m far from right and far from what they are used to.  I can’t imagine they really care but they all see it.  It’s glaring.  The contrast.  They are callow but see me like I’m fucking naked.  I am fucking naked.  I’m a hot mess.

I’m so exposed.  What am I doing here?  I should have gone through a drive thru.

I decided not to wear my shades because I can’t find them and I hate that people do that inside anyway.  I’m in sales and if we’re indoors at a trade show, and even if you’re a client, wearing your sunglasses indoors, I won’t talk to you.  I loathe you the minute you approach my booth.  With your stupid fucking shades that prevent me from looking you in the eye.

You’re a dick.  Automatically.  I want to see your goddamn eyes.  I hate that too cool for school bullshit.  Ask me a question and I ask you to please remove your glasses.  If you don’t, I will mock you and not answer your questions.

I’m in trouble.  They see me every morning, they can’t help but notice.  I’m beyond uncomfortable.

Beside myself.

I looked at myself in the mirror.  I know that I fought with him sometime before he left my bed.  Before he left my bed?  Fuck.  There was blood.  Lots of it.  Not all of it mine. A lot of it not mine.  I did some damage.  Not very much of it Watership’s.  I hope.  I think.  I know.  That happened before.  Before we fought.  I don’t remember but I know what I know.  I know he slept with me in my bed afterward.  I know that before that, we beat the shit out of each other.

What fucking madness.  I am dying while losing my grip.   It is the most furious confusion.  I am going mad.

It’s ridiculous but it pleases me.  I fought and I inflicted, and spilled his blood but what does him leaving my bed mean?  Did he fuck me?  Literally fuck me?  I’m sure I’d know and I’m here to tell you that it didn’t happen.  My ass is not sore.  I don’t understand why he was in my bed, it makes my hands and fingers shake but I assure you, nothing like that went on.  Maybe that’s what I was fighting.

Why can’t I remember?

Furious confusion.

Days have gone by.  I think that was Friday and this is Monday.  I look better now.  No contest.  I look much better.

I just don’t have this coming, I’m so confused and afraid.

Scabs much smaller.  Not so much black and blue.  More yellow now.  Much less grief and violence in my brain.  My hands and arms barely as sore as they were before.  My back and ribs still ache.  It still hurts to breathe deep.  My neck, like it had been wrenched and then I think of the hair.  I have lots of hair, copious, but it was everywhere.  I gathered it while I sobbed over the slaughter of Watership with the early morning sun slamming in.  If I remember that, what happened to the rest of the story?

Monday morning.

Starbucks.

So weird.  So disconcerting that they see.  They look at me and stare at me from their corners.  I wonder how hard they think about it.  They whisper.  I wonder about the mess I must be.  What do they think they see?  What are they guessing, what conclusions are they making?

I want to ask how fucked up I look.  I can’t.  But I wonder what they see.

They imagine it’s drugs and I’m really more or less okay with that.  It’s convenient at least.

What would be better, they assume I’ve been in a bar brawl.  That would be best.

Hey kids, not as fast as I used to be.

Maybe that’s my story if they ask.  I lost a fight but I don’t know that I did.  It’s cruel comedy that their guess is almost as good as mine.

I have to remind myself that these are not important people in my life.  They are not family or friends.  But I see them everyday, and I remember that I can’t seem to share anything with family or friends either.  Can’t or don’t while I stand in line and ask myself why.  I begin to realize that I have guilt.  It’s heavy.  My head gets hot as I understand that I think I somehow deserve all of this.  How can that be?

I can’t afford to even think about this now.

What have I ever done?

How?  I’m not perfect but I try.

I treat people well.  I’m kind and considerate.  What have I done?

I’m sweating.

I feel it at the small of my back and on my head.

I’m sweating.  I hate to sweat.  It starts to run from my forehead and down my neck.

There’s this one girl with the most magnificent ass.  It’s huge for her small frame and makes me understand that my appreciation borders on fetish.  Her ass makes my palms sweat.  It’s so round.  I’m telling you, it’s gorgeous.  She’s black and I just want to see her unclothed buttocks.  Just once.  Fortunately, it’s all I’m attracted to about her beside her personality.  She’s very friendly and sincerely sweet, sees me when I walk in to join the line and my beverages are ready on the bar to my right when I hit the register.  She’s not here today.

I’m grateful she’s not here to see me like this.

There’s always tomorrow.

There’s another with a smile that could melt snow cones in a blizzard.  I like noses.  She’s got a nose that allows her smile to blaze and present underneath it like a billboard.  It’s big but shapely.  Her nose.  It somehow frames her smile.  Her eyes are green and flecked with gold and her lips are full and rosy.  She is lovely.  Porcelain skin.  High cheekbones.  She usually beams at me but not today.  A flicker of a grin.  Cautious, embarrassed recognition.  She reminds me of a girl from my youth named Wendy.  Horrible kisser but adorable.  Gorgeous.  Sweet eyes and an infectious sincere smile.  She was a doll.

Not today.

I must look that bad.
I can’t believe I don’t know their names.

I think of them as Mandy and Mandy.  I like that name.

Mandy.

Then the guy with a gold lightning bolt earring that I can’t possibly take seriously because of his dumb earring.  It doesn’t work on many levels, the foremost being that he doesn’t have long hair.  If he did that might be more pathetic but it’s just so out of context.  He’s a good guy but his jewelry shouts something at me.  He gives me fliers for his band and tickets all the time.  He reminds me of show times and I tell him I don’t make records anymore and hate going to clubs.  They all know my name.  I checked his website once.  I listened.  Pretty good thick rock, tuned down to a drop C and some decent melodies.  Good song structure and some decent hooks.  Not bad at all but then there’s his stupid earring.  Is he making some statement with it that I don’t get or an egregious fashion mistake?

I don’t really care.

But I do because he’s nice and enthusiastic and his band doesn’t suck at all.  They are quite good.  If I was still in the business, I’d pursue him.  I’d ask him to lose the earring.

Long story, my hand up when I say it.  Rough night, I tell them.  Corporate interference I lie, aggressive takeover I tell them.  Led to a stupid bar fight.  In court today, I tell them because I’m early in a jacket and tie.  They are young and afford me some respect I don’t understand I deserve.  I say as little as possible but still feel I’m babbling.

They do seem happy to see me despite the mess I am.  Maybe it’s me, but they brighten some at my lame explanation.  Because I usually look them in the eye and talk to them without agenda or because I’m not just some dick and they treat me well so I reciprocate?  I hope that’s it.  I tip well.  I’ve demonstrated an interest in their lives.  They are kids to me.  Weird enough.  Did I ever actually tell that guy with the earring that I used to be a record producer?  I don’t remember it coming up.  I must have.  How else would he know?

Man I’m confused and these people don’t mean anything to me but I see them every morning and I’m worried what they think.  It’s really fucking with me.  My stomach hurts because I think they used to respect me.

Sometimes I buy the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.  I take my Venti iced water, iced Venti drip, dump a little, glug of half & half into it, stir it with the straw and leave.

I’m not a fancy coffee guy.  Hot coffee makes me sweat in the summer so I order it on ice.

It’s then I realize I’ve told the wrong story.  Their friendliness is because they realize I’m lying and they don’t know what to do but be polite.  Effusive forced.  My face is a mess and I’ve just stood in front of them and said things they know to be lies.

They now know I’m a dick.

One Venti iced drip and one Venti iced water.

$2.65

Every now and then I sit at an outside table and smoke half a cigarette.

This morning I leave in a hurry.

Furious confusion.

I sweat in the car in the LA summer and the air conditioner feels like a cold hose on my face.

My Audi has the best fucking air conditioner ever in any car I’ve ever known.  I’m so ashamed.  My hips feel greasy and my legs are rubber.  I’m a loser.

My air conditioner burns at the wounds on my face but stops my head from sweating into them.

I drive to my office striving for numb before I get there.

Once there, I pause to put my briefcase and iced coffee in my office and head down the hall to greet the boss.

I wonder if it would have been better to just slip in quietly.

I’m self conscious. I begin to sweat again and my face throbs.  My head gets hot again. I own that I look like a pile of shit.  So I tell more lies.

Like the truth would wash.

You wanna shut the door? He asks. He’s alarmed, his eyebrows are up, friendly and neutral, but we’ve been close for decades and he knows something wicked has this way come.

Nope. I actually fell down the goddamn stairs, I say. I was hammered, I say. I look at him embarrassed because I am.  I was actually shithoused and fell face first down the fucking stairs I tell him.  He’s a big drinker too, so maybe. The stairs to my parking garage, I say.  I tell him I’m fine and not to worry.  My knees are what’s killing me I tell him.  I need to sit down I say.

My nose feels like a sliced plum and he stairs at it. I try to breathe quietly through my mouth. It’s not really working.  I’m about to snore or sneeze and it’s gonna make me tear up.

Sweet Jesus, he says. That’s gotta hurt like a bastard.

Fuck me it does, I tell him.  I laugh a little, I tell him if I tear up it’s because it smarts and it’s not because my vagina hurts. He laughs but he’s still looking at me.  I tell him my vagina hurts too and he chuckles a little more honestly.

His nose barely wrinkles and he squints a little; I understand he knows I’m bullshitting him. It sucks.  He knows I’m lying.

I can’t imagine sharing with him that I’ve been in a fistfight with a demon whom I can’t explain on any level but I think I won kinda but he killed my pet rabbit and my rage allowed me to prevail maybe but I still don’t have any idea what’s happening or even when the fight happened and I’m beyond confused and so freaked out that I’m barely able to hold it together but I’m happy to be here at work because it feels safe to me and I’m really happy to see his and every other face.

I feel safe here in the daylight.

The girls in the warehouse put their hands to their faces and give me a hug.  I assure them it’s no big deal.

I want to shut my door but I can’t.

I need to be here.  Otherwise, I would not have come.

I drop with care in my chair, it squeaks a riot of mechanical crankiness, turn the computer on, check my schedule and my list of calls.  I grab the phone and realize that even the phone against my face is fucking killing me.

My face hurts, it’s hard to breath and every muscle in my body is sore.  My kidneys ache and it’s hard to breathe and I don’t remember how to do this job.  It’s hard to breathe.

They all do the double take when they pass my office.

Mattie’s office is across from mine and he can’t stand it. By lunch he’ll have his angle. He’s six four with a fauxhawk but today I will kill him. I feel fucking mean. Nothing to lose. I will beat him to death with the goddamn fax machine. I picture it and crack a smile. My face hurts so bad tears well up.

The morning is pain and humiliation. No one has really liked me for awhile. They’re all confused and afraid. I can’t blame them.  I haven’t been myself.   I’ve been confrontational and antisocial for weeks. Today I show up with my face split open. Like that works in any way at all.

Put yourself in my shoes. How do you even begin the conversation? We’re pretty close, all of us. But I don’t even hope to tell any of them the truth. This shit is crazy and that’s all they’ll get from me if I open my mouth. They’ll come away thinking I’ve lost my shit. I hate it, but it’s true.

Best to say nothing at all.

Lunch is cool. Mattie has decided to forgo the canyon in my face as a topic. After the first few minutes, I understand this and I’m grateful.  Until I realize that he is frightened too.  This makes my stomach drop.  I’m freaking everyone out because they cannot possibly understand what’s going on and they see that I’m in rapid decline because of whatever the fuck it is.

So, not cool. Everyone on edge. Best friends and coworkers are beside themselves because of me. They try to include me in conversation, but look at me with cloudy revulsion and confusion.  They want an explanation but I can’t and I can’t tell them why.  They have no idea what to make of me and there’s nothing I can say that will put them at ease.

I’m a fucking mess that keeps getting worse in everyone’s eyes.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this.

I shouldn’t have come.

I want to scream that you people worry about how to pay a vendor, or when product will arrive, while I’ve been fist fighting a fucking demon every night. His eyes bleed and he drools. Fuck me, that’s not the half of it.

At day’s end, my boss, my friend, pulls me aside and tells me that if he can help in any way, to let him know.  Then he tells me to take the time I need to sort or solve or whatever I need.  He tells me he can’t have me here like this and puts a hand on my shoulder.  I tell him I understand and that I’ll be back as soon as I can.  I promise I tell him and he looks at me like he doubts me almost completely.

Then I go home.

To sleep.

To dream.

I get drunk first. On good gin.  Bombay Sapphire.  I drink almost half of it.  I kill damn near half the baby.  The bottle I mean.

All ice trays full.

I realize that my flat plasma throws heat because I feel it on my torn and bloody nose.

I go to bed.

I reach to turn off the lamp and on the nightstand.  A white plastic pawn.

A cheap, ivory white, plastic pawn with the tiniest smear of blood right there on the nightstand that wasn’t there when I stripped the bed and laundered the sheets this very morning.

My heart sinks.  My blood literally runs cold.

I puke in the bathroom sink and everything hurts.  Snot spills from my nose.  There is my hair on the bathroom floor.

Fuck me.  What do I do?  What did I do?

I am angry.  Furious.  My head is hot again.

I dig in the closet for my chess set.  The one my mother gave me after she taught me to play as a kid.  I place a black pawn on the opposite nightstand.  I check all the windows and doors.

I’m so tired.

Furious confusion.

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