The following is a short story that I wrote in 2010.
I spill my glass full of orange juice all over the coffee table that sits in the middle of our living room. My roommates, both the ones that live with me on the first floor and the ones that live less than ten feet above my head, are sitting around me. All (one, two, three, four…) five of them. Each of them on an assorted piece of mismatching furniture. Couches, loveseats, ottomans, corner sectionals. One is mashing buttons on the Playstation controller, hoping to knock down his virtual opponent with a series of uppercuts and haymakers, while the others split their attention between the fight on the television screen and the blank Microsoft Word documents on their laptops. I’m flailing my arms. No one stirs. I start pounding my fist on the floor next to where I’m sitting. Nothing. Even though I’m less than five feet from each of them, they can’t see me. I am invisible to them. I take my bowl, now full of soggy Corn Flakes and throw it against the wall in frustration, shattering it into pieces. My mom gave me a set of bowls when I moved into this house. One bowl down.
I fall on the floor and just lie there, face up. I have resigned. The ceiling starts losing its color. Those black spots appear in my vision. You know, the ones you get from staring at the sun for a really long time or when you eat some really good acid. Everything is fading. I feel life draining from me. I begin to fall backward very slowly. I think of my roommates, how much I’ll miss all of them. I think of the last time I talked to my mom and dad, over seven months ago after the big fight. What a fucking mess that situation is. I didn’t expect to go out so soon. So many loose ends. Everything gets cold. Fade to black. Cue music.
See, that’s the thing about choking. When you’re choking, you can’t make any noise. No one can hear you. No matter how hard you try to yell at the top of your lungs, nothing comes out. Not even a helpless gasp for air. Nothing. The panic could kill you before the lack of oxygen will. There is no hope.
I try to place where I remember this monologue from and then it comes to me. A couple of years ago I went to Philly to visit a close friend of mine from high school. We’re sitting at a small table in his kitchen, reminiscing about all the pranks we‘d pull back in Calc class. His roommate comes in, prepares himself a turkey sandwich with all the fixings, and politely enters the discussion. The beers are wearing off and the conversation eventually turns to stories of near-death experiences we’ve encountered. His was about nearly choking to death on a chicken bone. And now, of all times, is when that particular memory slowly comes into focus.
I wake up rustling the three blankets that are covering me. I look at the clock. 4:17 AM. A dream. No wonder it’s freezing, my space heater has been off for at least three hours. One of the rules we set when we bought space heaters for the house was they can’t be left on at night or when no one is in the house. See, we all bought these industrial-like space heaters. Not those flimsy ones you get at Brookstone or one of those new-age places. We went to a man’s place. The Home Depot. Before embarking on our journey, I decreed that I wanted the warmest, albeit unsafest space heater on the market. You have to give me that. Everything I do, I do one hundred percent. I don’t dance around anything. That’s one of the traits I like most about myself.
I bundle myself up and fall back asleep fairly easily. I wake up again just a few minutes short of one in the afternoon. That’s more like it. I lay in bed for a little while longer. I decide I am of better use to society if I get up. I put on some pants, make myself decent, and open my bedroom door. The start of a new day.
I go to the kitchen to make “breakfast.” I crack open four eggs and carefully remove the four yolks. I coat the pan with some fat-free olive oil spray, pour the yolkless egg goo into it, and wait until it turns pearl white. I pour myself a tall glass of orange juice. I scramble the eggs, scoop it onto a plate, douse it with some Frank’s, and get to eating. A protein bar for the road and it’s gym time.
Today is chest day, probably my favorite day of the week. Not that my chest is bulging, but I could press a good amount. Straight bench, incline bench, decline bench, doesn’t matter. At least for me, the chest is the one muscle group that responds the best with a ton of protein. A nice whey protein shake after coming back from the gym and my tits feel tender. I love it. After the workout and the shake, it’s my shower routine. Shampoo. Conditioner. Body wash. Dry myself off. Comb. Shave. Deodorant. Floss. Brush my teeth. Stridex. Cologne. Put on a shirt. And done. Rinse and repeat. It’s my version of GTL.
I quickly walk to my European History class. I’m cutting it close to the start time and I hate being late for class. If I’m more than ten minutes late, I just don’t go. That simple. I sit in the back during lecture. This is my time to catch up on text messages. Figure out plans for tonight.
End of the lecture. I have one name and date written down, a doodle of an overgrown fly buzzing over a trashcan, four confirmed people coming over the house tonight, a bunch of “maybes“, and many more “no” responses. Maybe they’ll respond later I say to myself. But I know that’s not the case. It’s the same ones, week in and week out. At what point is it socially acceptable to cut off a friend? Not like I care, I’ve cut people out more times than I can count. In fact, I’m surprised I have any friends at all at this point.
Fast forward to tonight. It’s Thursday which means everyone is looking to get drunk. All the liquor we had purchased earlier is about three quarters consumed. Lady Gaga is blasting from my speakers. People are singing along to every song. My vision is so fuzzy everything appears as if it is underwater. Tonight is a good night. A good good night.
I hear the familiar footsteps come down the stairs. My one female roommate. She hadn’t responded to my text, but she usually comes when I have people over. Usually. See, I’ve been drinking with this circle of friends for over a year and a half now and I can honestly say these are some of my favorite people to hang out with. Cheesy I know, but I love my roommates even though I tend not to show it. It’s a shame I have to pack everything into one night every week because of my hectic schedule.
Anyway, I digress. She comes down the stairs and I know what that means. It’s time for shots. She’s a champ at this. I’d never taken a shot before in my life until I met her. I’ve always been more of a drug guy myself. But I can adapt. I can get used to this.
Before you know it, we’re four shots in, bringing my grand total for the night well into double digits. At this point my shirt is off, and we’re dancing to 90s dance music. You know, La Bouche. Real McCoy. Yeah, it’s that kind of night. I give her a quick but warm hug and we all go to bed, but not before I make promises with everyone for breakfast in the morning in my overly loud drunk voice.
I’m in the shower getting ready for work. I’m still slightly hungover and I say this out loud to myself, although the double stack of chocolate chip pancakes is working wonders right now. I think about the great times we had the night prior. And throughout the semester. Because of the seven month standoff between my parents and me, my roommates are the closest thing I have to a family right now. I remember all the times we would gather around the small TV in my bedroom and play Clue on my Super Nintendo. Six characters for six roommates. Or all the times we’d sit in our living room, order some takeout, and watch a movie, which became almost a weekly event. Or pack into my car to go food shopping, windows down and music blasting of course. Or when we’d go out to eat and use the discount I get from the restaurant I work at. Or the times, after a long weekend of work for the both of us, I’d drive her to a diner where we’d stay for hours, telling each other all the secrets we kept hidden from everyone else. Or the time we went to see Pearl Jam, even though she only knew two songs but still had a great time. Or the time last year coming back from a party we had to take a cab and she insisted I get dropped off at my dorm room first. It was snowing a bit and I was little drunk, but I still remember her big smile from inside the warmth of the cab and a wave goodbye as I looked back at her. It really is the small things that matter most in life. Or how last year, we would sometimes go into the attic when a party was winding down and sit in the dark, listen to some 70s soft rock, and fool around under some old blankets, but make sure not to get too close. Or how one night this year after going to a bar and having about nine shots apiece, we both thought it was a good idea to drive home and sleep together. You can imagine how shocked we were the next day when we both woke up naked on my full size bed.
We both agreed we valued each other’s friendship too much to pursue anything. “Well, this is awkward,” I remember joking as we both woke up when my alarm clock went off. We both had a good laugh. I remember her putting her clothes back on under my sheets hidden from me, not even looking in my direction, almost pretending as if the night before didn’t even happen. But we prevented things from getting too weird after that and actually became better friends. These are some of my greatest memories from college.
And then I remember all the times she breaks my heart. How hollow I feel sometimes. I remember buying her Bruce Springsteen tickets for her birthday last year and she flat out refused them. Not only that, she stopped talking to me for months. I remember that bitter silence between us, which I continued for longer that it should’ve lasted because I didn’t know what else to do. I remember all the miscommunication on both sides. She would take me ignoring her as a sign that I wanted nothing to do with her, when that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t want to be hurt. But she didn’t want to talk about “us” so we never really clarified where we stood. God, I wish I could just tell her how much she, and all my roommates mean to me, just so there is no misunderstanding. Just because I don’t say it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. I wish I could yell this from the tallest building, so everyone I’ve ever loved can hear it.
But I can’t. I have to keep it cool.
God, I hate being hungover.
I get to the restaurant. I’m closing today which means I gotta clean up after I’m all done with my tables. I work at a chain Mexican restaurant right off the Garden State Parkway, so I’m getting flooded with tables all night. I don’t have time for indecision. Do you know what you want? Yes? Good. No? Fuck you. Next.
There. Is. No. Time. To. Think.
In a lull, I check my phone. One missed call. Mom. Well would you look at that. You don’t call me all week, or for seven months for that matter, and now when I’m attending to six tables is when you decide to call. I can’t deal with this anymore. I keep moving. I am a machine. Keep it cool.
I finally get home. Two of my roommates are watching a movie. The pungent smell of marijuana fills the room.
Hey, they say in unison.
I go to my room. It’s been a long day. I check my rundown of websites to decompress a bit. Facebook. ESPN. Pitchfork. Rinse and repeat. Same old shit. I’m back at it again tomorrow. Tomorrow’s a double shift and so is the next day and lord knows I don’t take any breaks. Just gotta keep moving. Gotta pay rent. Gotta pay the bills. And I also gotta live at some point too, so I need some money for booze.
I turn on my space heater to warm up the room a bit. I lay down on my bed, face up. She hasn’t gotten back from work yet. I’d hear her high heels. I hear my other roommates file into their respective rooms. I turn off the light.
I am five again. It’s autumn, and I’m jumping into a bunch of leaves. My mother yells from the window not to get too dirty, it’s almost time for dinner. My dad gets home from work. He takes the football that is buried in a pile of leaves, and we start tossing it to each other. This is the closest I’ve been to my dad in seven months, ever since I left their house for good.
My eyes well up at the thought of this particular scene, but I put all my energy into preventing tears from flowing. I try to muffle my dry sobs and whimpers. Maybe it’s not that no one can hear you when you’re choking. Maybe it’s that you don’t let anybody hear you.