"I'm enjoying this more than I thought I would."
Andrew smiled down at the orange he was peeling, saying nothing.
He's not aware of himself at all, I concluded.
I've been on a plethora of dates, and never have I been so frustrated by a guy's lack of self-promotion. The moment I hopped into his car I couldn't differentiate this Andrew from Andrew two weeks ago. He might as well have put on the same clothes, or had he?
And this date, a picnic in the park, oh Christ in heaven I had to hold my eyeballs - literally pinch the corners of my actual eyeballs - to stop them from rolling. Somehow he tries too hard, yet not hard enough.
Today wasn't entirely awful. Aside from being wholly uncreative, Andrew was OK company and it's hard to hate sitting outside on a nice day. It was warm, even in the shade. The beautiful oak we sat under kept me almost as occupied as watching the various people as they enjoyed their own day in the sun. This coupled with food generously brought by Andrew - further raising him in my esteem - well it would make a decent date for anybody, you know.
"Here." A freshly peeled orange lay in Andrew's hand. I morphed my face into what I hoped was the most contemptuous stare.
He sniffed, making a show of straightening his shoulders.
"Would you like an orange, Rayleigh?" He spoke lowly, his eyes never leaving mine, glinting with mischief his expression didn't reflect.
"Yes I would, Andrew. Thank you." I wrapped my hand around the orange and tugged a few times before, laughing, I pinched his arm and he finally released it into my care. He sat back with a chuckle.
He reached into the bag full of food he'd brought with him and produced an apple and a knife. I watched with keen interest as he peeled the apple one-handed; his forearm keeping it steady while his good hand removing the skin with shift, smooth motions.
Once he finished he dropped the peelings back into the bag and leaned back on his elbows, stretching his long legs in front of him. His eyes flickered up to me as he took a bite, questioning.
I hesitated, but decided to be honest with him. "I'm surprised you can do stuff like that."
He paused, the apple hovering before his lips as he fixed me with one those probing glances. An unreadable expression flickered across his face, and I let the thought of apologizing linger before slipping away. Finally he took a bite, his gaze never leaving mine, and chewed softly while nodding to himself.
"Too honest." He mumbled neutrally, glancing away.
I tossed an orange slice into my mouth, slightly disappointed but unsure why. My eyes drifted upward into the clear blue of the sky. I loved this time of year, just before fall, when all the colors gleamed so vividly. Those last moments before the end everything and everyone will want to be remembered at their best.
My attention returned to Andrew, still chewing and his gaze downward. Though his position was lax he radiated with tension. A familiar feeling clenched my guts uncomfortably.
I forced a smile, "You're mad now?"
His eyes shot to mine, eyebrows high.
"If you're not going to talk to me I might as well go home," I said lightly, plopping a few more slices into my mouth.
"Do you want to go home?" He asked, his tone matching mine but betrayed by stony eyes and a restless twitch of his crossed feet.
"There's no point torturing ourselves with an awkward date," I said, weighing my words carefully, "As you said, I tend to say what I think. If you can't handle that this is a waste of time."
He sat up and shoved his right limb into his pocket. He looked over at the other people who occupied the park; parents, kids, couples, he seemed to watch them, but his gaze was distant. My focus rested on his hand and the blades of grass that rested between each digit. That awful feeling shot throughout my body, but I was already too consumed to calm down.
Why am I like this, I thought.
"Are you finished?"
My eyes met his then glanced down at my hand, which held half an orange.
"Yeah..." He held out his hand. Obediently I gave them to him and watched as he deposited them in the bag as well as the water bottles he brought.
We both stood and he collected the blanket, stuffing that into his bag as well. He looked at me.
"So do you want to watch a movie? Grab something to eat?"
I paused, surprised.
"A movie? I guess?" He nodded, fishing out his keys.
For a moment we simply stood silent, the rattle of keys between us. He watched as they spun around his finger, and then caught them, weighing them in his hand.
"If you don't mind," he began, "I'd rather you go easy on me." He glancing up at me, a small smile tugging at one corner.
"Not that I have a problem with the way you word things. I just need to get used to it."
"Yeah, I'll try not to bombard you with harsh truths on the regular."
He glanced up, "Your restrain is appreciated." He gestured to his car at the perimeter of the park and we headed in that direction.
And I tried to ignore the tiny voice that resounded in my mind over and over,
As if he'd be around long enough.
I woke up the next morning as I usually do, terrified.
As I lay there laboring each breath my mind raced to find the source of today's anxiety attack. Work? Maybe since the store was getting a new shipment I was worried I mixed up the times, it was my first time being the receiver after all. I checked my phone: 5:36 am. I checked my email with shaky fingers, what if it was 6, not 7, when I was supposed to show up. Oh god, I wouldn't make it- but no Jacob is there too so even if I were late he could take over.
"Shipment to arrive at 7 a.m. Try to be there at least 15 minutes early." I breathed a sigh.
A small bit of a nervous energy left my body, but my mind refused to settle. My gasping mixed unnaturally with the bass of an upbeat song playing from my headphones. I must have accidentally left my music playing again. That mixed with work could be why I woke up like this.
Or maybe there wasn't a reason as is often the case. There are days when I wake up sobbing without warning. With nothing particularly stressful or frightening going on in my life. Those are the days I don't - can't - leave my bed.
Today, I was relieved to find, wasn't as debilitating as it could be. I'd leave my bed and keep any crying restricted to the shower. Though all I wanted was to stay in the safety of my room with the covers drawn over me and pretend like my life could go on without me actually living it.
I searched the darkness of my room for something, anything that'd give me the strength to get up. I asked the photos on my wall of old friends, the painting of a woman walking alone on a rainy day in the city, carrying a gray umbrella that masked all but the small curve of her mouth, neither smiling or frowning. She's just there, existing.
The warmth of my tears trailed down so slowly from my cheek onto my pillow in contrast to the acceleration of my thudding my heart. I felt myself begin to sink. Further, further down into the stiff, cool sheets until I was too engulfed to move. Until the sun came up. Until the ringing of my phone finally stopped. Until the sun fell again.
And I closed my eyes and hoped for a better day.
"So you just didn't show up? Did they fire you?" Lydia slammed the corner of her bottle cap on her coffee table and it came off instantly, and well as some of the wood with it.
I laughed, "Nah, I called them and said I've been throwing up all day. I hardly ever call in so it was fine."
She propped her legs on the back of the couch, letting her dark curly hair hang over the arm. Sipping lazily on her drink, she looked at me with red-rimmed eyes and I wondered if she had smoked before I got here.
"But still I can't believe you decided to skip. I could never have the guts to do that I freak out when I'm late picking up a pizza."
We laughed together and though I was well rehearsed in tossing out an excuse it still baffled me how little any one suspected me. When I laughed it felt more like a grimace on my face, a sick twist of the lips betraying my lies.
They know I'm lying, my mind shouts, they'll know I'm full of crap. Lydia will call me out; she'll make me tell her the real reason I bailed on work.
But that has never happened. I lie and she believes me.
I was thankful for that.
I caught her eye and she gestured towards her room. I raised a brow. She put fingers to her lips and I caught on.
She has been smoking, and she's left some for us to share. Friendship is amazing.
We had to hotbox in her room, however, since Sasha hated the smell. Lydia always likes to whine about how she's never met a black person so opposed to weed. Had it been anyone else I would have been offended, but Lydia was one of my oldest friends. We went to the same majority black high school and I knew her words came from actually experience rather than stereotypes.
Not to mention she had an off putting sense of humor and an unapologetic nature to boot, so any hurt feelings would promptly fall on deaf ears. She was the type to gain friends easily and lose them even faster, and perhaps that's how we've managed to stay friends for so long. We both knew this was the best we could ask for, as no one else would hang around for so long.
Lydia tossed her shadowy locks behind her shoulder, narrowing her slanted eyes in disgust as a few strands fell again onto the joint she was trying to roll. She claimed to hate her hair and yet she let it grow so long it fanned her butt as she walked.
Sitting crossed-legged on her queen sized bed that had no frame and surrounded by plants and thin quilts that hung from her walls like wallpaper while EMD music blared from her speaker, Lydia was the epitome of boho chic culture. She was everything I wished I could emulate with the same ease in which she lived.
I watched with a mix of fondness and uprooted jealously as she leaned far over her bed to let her hair curtain down to the floor. Her translucent skin seemed to glow in the dying sunlight as she struggled to not to spill anything onto the floor. She's like some cutesy anime character.
God I'm really starting to hate her right now.
Suddenly she flipped up, her hair hitting her back with a sounded whap. She extended the neatly rolled joint to me and I shook my head.
"You first," she stated with no room for argument, "I don't have a lamp and it'll freak me out if I'm high and I see a floating blunt."
I took it gently before smacking her arm hard enough to leave her red.
Lydia and I sat shoulder to shoulder with our feet hanging over the balcony. We took turns passing a bottle back and forth between us, having long ago finished smoking but not wanting to lose our buzz. My dad used to tell me only losers drink during the week, but always followed it up with-
"And suckas drink on the weekend."
So I lose either way.
Lydia nodded her head to the rhythm of whatever music she heard in her mind. Her fingers drummed enthusiastically in the air as she rambled about the music she was composing for her weekend set at Jam! where she DJed for extra money.
"I love the piano but playing other people's compositions can be so monotonous. What really energizes me is when I get into my headspace and create something so vociferously self-indulgent it makes me realize who I am, where I want to go in my life. Even the ugly shit. I'm so parasitic; my whole life is contrived of what I've gotten or what I've been given or what can I get, and it's not bad it's just..."
She stopped drumming and glanced at me.
"Something you had to realize." I offered. "I think that's great Lyd, not many people are willing to look at their bad traits."
She nodded graciously.
"As an artist I have to. How am I supposed to express the trial and tribulations of human nature through my music if I can't even see it in myself, you know? If I closed myself off to my own imperfections I've lied to my audience before I've stepped onstage. The foundation of music is sentimentality of the optimistic clashed with the morbidity of everyday truth. I mean nobody is really an optimist OR a realist, but an unbalanced mixture of both.
"So when those fucking posers start spouting off about 'I'm a realist - I see life how it is - blah, blah fuckin' blah' I already know they produced the shallowest self indulgent piece of trash that gets peddled to the masses on a daily."
"But I thought self indulgence was the foundation of art or something." Usually it's best to let Lydia rant till she's exhausted herself, but for whatever reason today's drunk ramblings were slightly unbearable.
"No, No, No. I said sentimentality of the optimistic clashed with the morbidity of everyday truth is the foundation of music. Self-indulgence is a path toward self-realization. That's what I said."
"Oh. Right. Do you want me to get the other bottle?"
Bringing her attention back to the present she seemed to recall her lack of a drink in over thirty minutes and snatched the bottle from me, taking several big gulps before it was drained, and tossing it into the grass beneath us.
She eyed me warily. "See that's your problem."
"What's my problem?" I asked, staring at the double moon.
"I shouldn't tell you," she sighed, picking at the ends of her hair. "You need to figure it out yourself."
"No really listen, Ray. It's pointless to tell you if you aren't ready to realize it yourself. Plus you'll get pissed at me, and it'll be so annoying having you here."
You were the one who brought it up you instigating...I took a deep breath. Then another.
"You're the one who brought it up so you might as well say it." I said in the calmest voice I could muster.
Lyd sighed again, as if I had begged her to disclose this seemingly crucial information. I scratched at my cuticle, as she appeared to decide whether or not to continue.
"You're self destructive, Ray." She stated heavily. I wanted to laugh. Or smack her. This was my problem? Mine?
"Yea ok, Lyd."
"See you automatically got defensive-"
"-I'm not defensive. It's just your so-called path to self realization seems to have some gravel missing."
She flicked her hair back agitatedly. "I don't know what you're referring to but-"
"You don't? How about when you dropped out of school to start this crazy music thing during your last semester."
Lydia dead eyed me, and I knew I was walking around land bombs touching on this subject, but my anger was like a wild animal, quick and bloodthirsty. Once I got started it was almost impossible to stop.
"Not to mention every time you make us sit and listen to one of your sets you don't listen to any of the advice we give you and then whine and bitch when Danny says you're an amateur-"
"Whatever, Ray. You're deflecting as usual."
"Nah, you just have trouble hearing criticism when it's not coming from your own mouth."
She rolled her eyes, now twisting her hair so hard the ends might break off.
We stewed in heated silence for some time. I could feel that unpleasant feeling begin to rise in me again, but I broke the silence before it overwhelmed me.
"I'm seeing a guy." I said, though I felt a twinge of untruth in such a committal statement as 'seeing'.
Her eyes snapped to mine, somewhat incredulous.
"His name is Andrew..." I laughed nervously. "He's Michael's TA, actually."
Lydia stared, took a deep breath, tilted her head all the way back, and screamed at the top of her lungs,
"ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?"
I tackled her to the ground as some guy yelled "shut up" for somewhere far off. She giggled, wrapping her arms around my neck, hugging me to her soft chest. I felt instantly warm inside, hugging her back. She rubbed my back for some time before whispering quietly into my hair,
"I know you more than you think I do. And I see all, my friend."
Today 1:46 a.m.
A: Hey, how are you?
Are you really?
R: Yup, do u think less of me
Well, the first time we met you were
drunk so I guess it's about the same
R: Oh right...did we actually meet or did u just see
I just saw you. I was there mostly for Michael,
and I talked to Sassy a bit.
R: Sassy? U mean sasha? Lol! She prolly liked u.
Where are you?
Oh. Do you need me to come get you?
R: Nah I'm sleeping hear tonight but thanks
*Here and no problem.
R: Usually I'm great at spelling while drunk
That's what they all say, next thing
you know you're accidental sending
a sext to your dad.
R: Omg that'd be horrible
Is Lydia still up?
R: No she's asleep
So you're up by yourself?
R: Yeah. if I'm keeping u up I can let u sleep.
No, you're fine.
R: Yeah I know. Damn fine.
LOL as long as you know.
R: Do u like being a pycatrist
R: ugh *psychiatrist
I don't know since I'm not a psychiatrist yet, but
I like understanding how people think.
R: Do u kno how I think?
You're a very closed off person.
R: So basically u scuk at this
R: Why did you want to be a psychiatrist?
I'll tell you later.
R: Tell me now.
It's a little intense. I don't want to kill your vibe.
R: Omg I literally hate that so much.
People keeping things from you?
Coming from you that's interesting.
R: How so.
I can tell you keep to yourself, that's all.
R: ...Lydia pissed me off today
R: She says I'm self-destructive
R: Idk. I don't think so.
R: ...do u think I am?
I don't think I know you well enough to answer that.
R: You're no fun.
I'm lots of fun.
R: Oh how so?
R: :) I don't think I do
Well... I like to get pretty dirty..
R: That's ok :P
Ok...sometimes...I don't wash my hands before dinner
Yea, and I don't always wash my sheets monthly.
R: You animal.
Whenever it snows I make sure to
draw male genitalia whenever possible.
R: Who says male genitalia.
R: Oh right you went to grad school.
I make sure to remind people.
R: Smh and here I thought I'd get a nice
1am chat with a cute boy
Calm down, we've been on one date. I need
at least one more before I'm willing to throw
myself at you.
R: You're smooth
R: Ok well I'm going to sleep.
Thanks for dealing with my drunk azz
R: Tell me goodnight
Haha. Goodnight Rayleigh.
Say it back to me, you selfish texter.
R: Goodnight, Andrew ;P Sweet dreams
Why do we dream?
No one really knows, but they say it's
to work through problems in our sleep.
R: So when I dream about my face peeling
off what am I working through
Some really messed up shit.
Idk it probably has something to do with self identity,
but honestly most dreams are nonsense.
R: So dreaming is a waste of time.
R: You really do suck at this.
If you want someone to make you feel better
you go to your friends or family.
You come to me when you need anti depressants.
R: Fair enough, ok I really am sleeping now.
You're supposed to be sleeping.
R: You offended me too much I'll be up all night cursing you.
Well, I'll need plenty of sleep to deal with
that in the morning.
R: You're ditching me.
You were the one who said you were going to sleep!
R: I am! Omg get off my back!
I just want to keep you honest.
R: Sigh. Fine. I'm going. Night. Loser.
Don't let your dreams be too crazy.