The little things never change.
It's 8:15 AM and I'm in the bathroom down the hall brushing my teeth. I'm not making breakfast today. I'm not even sure I'm hungry.
It seems to me that the small details of life are what really remind me that I could have had a different life.
By the time I'm done brushing my teeth and leaving the bathroom, I can hear Warren starting to move around in bed.
I stop at the landing and look out the window that looks over our backyard and the tops of the houses behind ours and there, in the distance, is campus, the towers and spires and trees and everything I left behind.
The house next door is still pink and peeling through the little window over the sink. And the sink has dishes in it from last night.
The living room is out of order as always. I don't feel like picking the little pillows up off the floor and putting them back onto the couch. I don't feel like putting the footrest back down into the recliner. I don't even feel like putting the remotes back onto the coffee table where they belong, because it's pretty obvious at this point that I'm the only person who knows they belong there, and that the footrest should be down, and that the little pillows belong on the couch.
Fuck it. Maybe I'll just get the gas can from the garage and soak it all in gas. If only we still had matches or that utility lighter we lost a few years back. I sigh and run a hand over my hair, and I look over at the mirror by the door and my hair is blue and shining in the morning sun, but my face looks tired, and my eye looks awful.
I need to make better choices. I'm not even sure at this point that I've been making choices so much as ignoring them.
I don't know. I'm suffocating in this house right now.
Warren's not down yet, but I don't feel like eating, and I don't feel like being here, so I'm just going to leave for work early.
It's not that I want to be at work. Believe me. I've got a talking to coming from the regional manager about why I threw a customer out.
At least it's payday.
And tomorrow is a day off. I haven't had one of those in almost a week.
Martha's already at the door when I walk in, and her eyes are wide and full of fear.
“He's in the office, Aaron. I told him you'd be in soon, and he ain't happy at all,” she says.
I sigh and nod, wishing I hadn't come at all.
“You want a Xanex?” She asks me.
I just stare at her for a second.
“I got some if you need it,” she adds, smiling at me.
I try not to laugh, because she's totally serious. “You can keep your Xanex, Martha.”
She nods and turns to go back to the counter to help my employees, and I hear her say, “The offer stands if you need it later.”
I may need a Xanex before this is all over.
I can take a lot from someone if they're higher than me in a job. I have my limits of course, but in most cases, including this one, I'm able to replace most offensive statements with the word “banana” over and over and I can keep smiling and nodding. I also like to imagine them as a giant chicken.
“I realize that he used some pretty foul language, Aaron, but it's not our policy to just throw people out,” the giant chicken is saying to me.
I nod and say, “He called myself and one of my employees 'faggot,' and considering that we're both gay, I would say that what I did was justified.”
“Banana banana banana,” the chicken says to me.
And I sigh to myself.
This isn't getting me anywhere.
“Banana banana,” the chicken says to me, its voice rising in anger.
I close my eyes and pretend I'm not here.
Basically I still have my job. But I've been told to be nice.
And now I'm watching the chicken stuff itself into a company SUV and leave, and as I watch it turn the corner out of the lot, I picture it exploding into a ball of fire and feathers and twisted metal.
The image causes me to smile.
I've got some iced coffee now, and once I'm sure I'm the highest level of management in the building again, I'm not leaving the office for a while.
I don't have to sit in the office with my iced coffee, ignoring my responsibilities.
But I'm going to do it anyway.
There's a knock on the door, and then it opens, and I realize I've forgotten to lock it again. I turn to look at Martha.
“Some guy's here to see you.”
Maybe one day Martha will remember Warren's name, and that he comes in every day.
“Tell him to get fucked,” I tell her.
And she looks at me like I've spoken another language, her eyes wide and blank, papers of some sort clutched to her chest.
“Hmm?” She says.
“Never mind, I'll be there in a minute.”
And she leaves, letting the door stand open.
Damn it, I think. And I slam the door.
I see him at the counter when I come around the fryers, his orange hair bright. His face is sad as he looks at me.
“Lunch already, eh?” I say as I approach the register.
“You gonna eat with me today?”
I type his usual meal into the register and say, my voice level and apologetic, “I'm actually really busy, so I'll have to pass.”
And I look up at his face, and he looks like a puppy that's just been kicked.
“You didn't eat with me yesterday either,” he reminds me.
“I've been busy.”
He sighs and says, “Alright.”
I don't know what we're doing anymore. I'm pretty sure I still love him, but we're becoming strangers, and it's happening so fast that I can almost see the end.
What I do know is that I miss him. Isn't that fucked up?
Martha enters my office without knocking again, and I almost close her in the door.
I suppose it's been a couple hours at least since I left the office.
“What is it?” I ask her.
“You need a Xanex yet?”
And I laugh.
She smiles, not understanding why I'm laughing.
Finally I say, “Martha, how would you like to take over for a few hours?”
Her eyes are wide and excited, and she smiles.
“You going home?” She asks hopefully.
I hand her the manager book.
My car knows this road instinctively, and sometimes I think that even if I let go of the steering wheel, it would eventually right itself and just keep going in a straight line home and maybe even park itself in the driveway. Just my luck.
I'm driving over the bridge, and there's a wreck down there on the freeway. Traffic up here's moving slow because the outside lane is full of morbid fucks.
Part of me wishes that car was mine. What a vacation that would be.
When I get home, Warren is still at work. The house is empty. I do the dumb little things I was against doing this morning. I put the little pillows back onto the couch, I put the footrest down into the recliner, I put the remotes back on the coffee table.
Then I go into the kitchen and look at the dishes in the sink.
If I don't do these dishes, they will never get done.
I look up through the window at the peeling pink siding of the house next door, and I suddenly wish there was no house there at all.
It's one of those days where something in the back of my mind is screaming. I'm not sure how to explain it.
Everything's the same, but it's all about to end.
Like when we graduated high school. All of us lined up, our destiny approaching, and all of our lives up until then consumed by the idea of preparing for this moment.
And then you get there and it's like you just keep going. Everything's the same, but now there's no purpose.
There is no point to it after you reach your goal.
And yet we all kept going, some of us flying into careers, and those people obviously had more goals, and some of us into college. But we didn't all make it, did we?
Some of us just kept going, even after our paths became gravel and then grass and then nothing, continuing into vast empty space.
And therein lies the issue.
I'm taking a walk, now, because I don't want to be home.
And on this walk I've somehow ended up on University strip. I didn't intend to end up here, but I wasn't really paying attention. Part of me was hoping to get lost and never find my way back.
I can hope, can't I?
“Aren't you supposed to be at work?” comes a voice from far behind me, rising over the sounds of buses and people.
I turn to see Harrison smiling at me from down the road with his green hair, and he starts to jog to catch up with me.
As he gets close, he says, “I was on my way home to do laundry.”
Without thinking, I say, “You can do it at my house if you want.”
And his smile fades. “I don't mind doing it at the laundromat,” he says. Then he adds, “Maybe you should come along. That way I have someone to talk to.”
There's an idea that I've been turning over and over in the back of my mind all day, that I haven't admitted to myself until now. But I say it, suddenly, as Harrison's jamming all of his laundry into one Washer.
“I might break up with Warren.”
And he keeps shoving clothes in but looks over at me, his face blank. My stomach tightens. And then he smiles and says, “Really?”
“Yeah,” I tell him, and the idea is just as sudden to me as it is to him.
He closes the door of the washer and looks over at me again, still smiling, and he laughs. “Well you can definitely do better,” he says. “Trust me.”
When I get home I'm confronted by the daunting task of cooking dinner.
I'm pretty determined to avoid that shit.
We've been talking about ordering out for a while.
It takes me a few minutes to remember where the phone book is, but when I find it I decide to order pizza.
When Warren gets home, we barely interact.
We start to eat dinner, and it mostly goes okay. We're not talking, but at least we aren't arguing about spaghetti.
And he then he says, “What's happened to us, Aaron?”
And I have so many answers ready for this question, but none of them come to mind. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out.
He looks at me across the table, so sad. His eyes are wet, and I think he's going to start crying.
“I'm not sure, Warren,” I say, and that's such a lame answer I want to punch myself in the face.
“I don't know who we are anymore,” he says.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, and then Warren takes a really deep breath. I know right then that I've lost my way, and that I'm just flying forward, hoping I'm not already dead.
Then he says, “I can't do this anymore.”
My mouth opens again. After a minute I finally say, “You can't do what?”
“I can't do this life. We're strangers. We aren't even good roommates.”
And that's how it is. All my reasons for staying, all of them were in my head. I'm racing ahead into the dark unknown with no path to guide me, so far lost that there may never have been a path at all.
“Is that how it is?” I say, my voice rising, bracing to stand up.
“Aaron, don't get mad,” he says, his voice cracking.
“Why am I here?” I say to him, practically yelling. “Why am I even here?”
We both stand up and stare at each other, and I think for a second that I might actually climb over the table and hit him until he hits me, and just keep going until we're both hamburger.
But I don't.
I go upstairs to the bedroom and slam the door.
After a second, I lock it too.
Fuck you, fuck you, I think.
I don't have to be here, I tell myself every day. It seems so disgusting to me now. But I tell myself even as I lay here alone in bed that I'm free to leave any time I want.
I've been ripped from my illusion of serving a purpose. I've been thrust into the incredible reality of having stayed long past my time to leave. Suspecting is one thing, but to actually realize way too late that you should have known it was over is another thing entirely.
It's amazing what I've allowed myself to forfeit for the sake of feeling like I belong.
I've kept myself here, a prisoner, and Warren with me.
I'm not sure what I expected.
I wake up a few hours later, my head pounding, my stomach full of acid, and I almost don't make it to the bathroom before I'm throwing up. At first, it's just pizza, but after a few heaves, I see blood, and I can't stop. Then it's all red.
The air is a fine mist of red just then, and the rest of the room starts to fade into darkness, and in the distance is a roaring, a screeching that gets so loud it's coming from all sides.
A harsh white light washes over me, the ground shaking, the water sloshing, and I realize I'm going to die. As I'm filling the bowl with my insides I know that there is a train about to hit me. And I can't stop throwing up long enough to save myself.
I wake up gasping for air, clutching the sheets and blankets and covered in sweat.
I look at the door to the bedroom, and it's still closed.
I sigh and lay back down.
Warren's words are in my head now.
I don't know who we are anymore, either.
I doubt that I ever knew.