waiting in black and white.
I don't know what to do with myself. I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my two bedroom, one bathroom house with the lights off. It's 5:22 p.m. My dryer is running. A pile of mail -- bills, advertisements, and a letter addressed to the previous homeowner -- is stacked neatly in the corner. Everything in my house is neat. I'm a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to cleanliness and order. At least that's what my boyfriend called it, obsessive-compulsive. He was wrong. OCD gets slapped on lots of people who probably don't have it; so does ADD. Just because you're not like everyone else, people assume something is wrong with you. I don't really know how people can stand to leave clothes on the floor and go weeks without vacuuming. My boyfriend was one of those people, and we broke up.
The clock is ticking on the wall, mocking the seconds I'll never get back. It makes me kind of angry. My chair screeches against the wood floor as I push back and walk into the kitchen. My bare feet stick to the wood and each one sounds like it is smooching the floor when I take a step. I pull the dryer open. I have one of those stacked units because I don't have a laundry room and my kitchen is very small. I convinced myself that I didn't need more room since I live alone. I think I would have given up the second bedroom for a larger kitchen.
My clothes aren't dry. They've only been in the dryer for 10 minutes; I pull them out anyway. I'd like to have a clothesline, but I don't trust my neighbors. I scoop the load into my laundry basket and carry it into the living room to put hangers on everything. I do what I can to be green and I've convinced myself that letting my clothes air dry will save energy. It takes a lot longer, especially since I can't bring myself to lay the clothes flat across the back of my couch or over a lampshade. Instead I put each article on a hanger and space them out in my closet to dry. Jeans are the worst.
I close my eyes when I pick up my navy blue polo shirt. Even though I'm living alone, I force myself to keep my composure. There's a lump rising in my throat and I'm on the verge of crying or throwing up. I can't decide which. The embroidered logo says "Brighten Up." It's for a lighting store where I work. Used to work. For three years and two months I sold high-efficiency light bulbs and lampshades. I was fired yesterday.
"Jenna, the manager would like to see you in his office, please."
Charlotte is the receptionist, if that's what you want to call her. She is 19 and spends the day answering the phone and texting her significant other. I think she graduated high school, but she's one of those girls who really has no ambition for her life. She'll party for the next four years before getting married and having some kids. I think she spends her entire paycheck on hair products and those packages of unnaturally orange cheese crackers with peanut butter.
I stop stocking the shelf and head toward the small office in the back. There is a line of floor lamps leading down the aisle like a runway and every one of them is on. The mass quantity of light at Brighten Up took some getting used to. My first two months here I resisted the urge to show up in sunglasses just to relieve my constant headache. Despite the sunshine bursting through the glass storefront, the manager/owner opted to turn on every light fixture in addition to the rows of fluorescents which hung 24 inches apart. Last year I used my tax refund to buy some carbon credits. It offset the guilt of working in a place that sucks energy from the grid like a blood-thirsty vampire.
The office door was open and the manager was sitting at his desk, running his pencil across a legal pad of yellow paper. I tapped on the door to get his attention.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Jenna, yes. Come in. Have a seat."
I felt him watching me as I sat on the burgundy chair. It was too firm and the back was fixed upright at an uncomfortable 90-degree angle. My manager sighed and wasted no time.
"Jenna, I know you have been here for a very long time. How long now?"
"Three years and two months."
"Right. And I would just like to say that you have been doing an excellent job."
"But unfortunately we just don't have the room in our budget to support an eight-person sales team. This has been a very difficult decision, but I'm sorry, we're going to have to let you go."
I think I nodded slightly at this point and everything between collecting my things and walking out of the store was a blur. My mind was not processing this very well. I took it in chunks, small realizations that I had just lost my means of an income. I merged onto the interstate toward home, my eyes fixed on the road and the radio off. Two miles down the road I fought the impulse to simply brake abruptly in front of the semi truck in my rearview mirror.
My survival instinct kicked in and I exited onto a secondary road and pushed "6" on my speed dial. I didn't particularly care to talk with my best friend about what just happened, but it seemed like the normal thing to do. Don't people normally tell someone when something disastrous happens? It rang three times and went to voicemail, "Hello! This is..." I hung up.
I had pulled into my driveway as the mailman was putting today's mail in my box. My mailman is a 68-year-old man with white hair and a hearing aid in each ear. He drives a silver Buick. So stereotypical. I found myself wondering how much life he had in him. Maybe I could take his job. Delivering mail might be fun. Except that I'd have to spend my entire day in a car, which would increase my carbon footprint from a woman's size 8 to size 14. I locked my car and drifted inside.
I tossed my keys and cell phone on the kitchen counter and wandered into the living room. I dropped down onto the couch and stared at the opposite wall. Why am I not crying? My emotions have malfunctioned since age 12 and are a significant source of mental frustration. Numb. I watched the wall, waiting for something, anything to happen. Perhaps I expected the world to stop turning or my manager to call me back and say he had made a huge mistake. Nothing happened and I fell asleep sitting right there.
I woke up when the sunrise began stabbing through my blinds. I had slouched and curled into the fetal position in the night, trying to stay warm sans blanket. My neck ached and my hair was plastered to my cheek. I sat up, dazed, and looked down at my Brighten Up shirt, now spotted with drool and unbelievably wrinkly. As I stood and shuffled toward my bedroom, I pulled off my shirt and threw it into my laundry basket. I slipped a gray T-shirt over my head and carried the basket to the kitchen. I needed to shower. Maybe later.
Day 1 of unemployment. Now what? I thought of my parents and decided against calling them. No need to make them worry and I certainly wasn't in the mood to hear any advice. I started a pot of coffee and stared out the window. For 10 minutes. Reality jerked me back when my coffee maker exhaled a puff of steam. I took a mug from the cabinet and filled it half with coffee, half with milk and a spoonful of sugar. Honestly, I don't even like coffee. I took up drinking it after I graduated from college because I wanted to feel like an adult. I dumped my laundry into the washer and started it, colors and whites mixed together. I don't believe in segregation.
I carried my coffee into the front room and sat back down on the couch. I took large gulps and tried to sort through my circumstances. Simple. I'll just find another job. I have a bachelor's degree. In art with a minor in Latin. Unfortunately I was one of those kids who picked a major that interested me rather than considering which would be most useful in obtaining employment. When I graduated I couldn't find a job. I couldn't even teach without a teaching certificate. I landed my job at the light bulb store because the previous owner had been friends with my uncle. When ownership changed just four months after I started, the new owner was kind enough to keep me on board. Until now.
My fingers grip the edge of the tub and I seamlessly submerge my head. Tiny wakes echo off this porcelain grave. When I stare toward the ceiling, I watch my hair dancing above my face like optimistic seaweed. Sleep. The water is warm, inviting. I stood in it as the tub filled, wearing jogging shorts and my gray T-shirt. They bloated and darkened with the depth, a gradual baptism. My hands release their hold and rest in the in-between, a suspension of hydrogen and oxygen; I could never wrap my head around that one. I am tired.
It's been four days since I was laid off from Brighten Up and I'm feeling bitter. Yesterday I wandered into the garage and unpacked a box of candles, bent on littering them around the house and declaring personal liberation from the light bulb. Mr. Edison, you are my nemesis. I had spent the morning unscrewing every bulb from its socket (even from the refrigerator) and dropping them into a metal bucket. The silence following the shatter felt like a drug, euphoria pulsing through every nerve and vein. I worked until lunch lining those tea lights up on every horizontal surface--the counter tops, windowsills, the edge of the tub--ready for duty like a battalion of obedient soldiers. I stood back and admired my work. I napped. I woke up at 6:30 to the setting sun, eager to light my candles.
There was not a single match in this house. Not one. I frantically pulled out kitchen drawers of miscellany. No matches, no lighters, no shards of flint, no flares. If I ever had a reason to regret not being a smoker, this was it. I skipped dinner and went to bed.
I'm angry that I haven't cried over this yet. My heart wants to cry, but it's like I'm all dried up. Broken. I think becoming an adult has made me hard. Calloused. Numb. It happens when you move to a big city and don't make any friends, no matter how badly you want to. Being an adult is a lot like being 12 all over again. I am just a 12-year-old girl with a lot more responsibilities and higher expectations. It actually kind of sucks.
I woke up in the morning with the sun, that unreliable partner who bursts into my room with a smile and a plate of scrambled eggs, completely ignorant of the fact that he walked out on me last night during my time of greatest need. I buried my head in the sheets in spite.
I laid there until my phone began buzzing against the hardwood floor. I picked it up. It was my best friend, Audrey, calling four days after the biggest crisis of my adult life. What a pal.
"Jenna! How are you? I saw I had a missed call from you, but things have been really busy. You know how it is. Sorry it took so long to get back to you."
"Oh, hey! You will never believe what happened to me yesterday."
For the next 7 minutes, I listened to Audrey detail her grocery store run-in with a celebrity who turned out to actually not be a celebrity; he simply looked very similar to this guy who had starred in a small-screen movie in the early 1990s. She had gotten his number and they were going out for coffee on Sunday.
"Wow," I said, when she was finished.
"It's crazy, right? It's so great, though. He is so sweet."
I didn't say anything and Audrey asked, "So how are you?"
"Oh, I"m fine. Good."
"Good. Well, I better get going. I'll talk to you later, Jenna. Bye!"
It was 10:09 a.m. I shuffled into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. One egg, ketchup, salad dressing, browning lettuce, jelly, and a take-out container of fried rice that was at least a week old. I pulled out the rice box and dropped it into the trash. In the cabinet was a quarter-loaf of bread. I dropped a slice into the toaster and went into the bathroom to wash my face.
I looked awful. Like Jesus, I thought: nothing about me to be desired. I turned and stared at the bathtub, an iceberg of white porcelain making its home in the middle of my bathroom. When I turned the faucet on, water gushed forth as though it were relieved to be free from its captivity in the pipes. I pulled off my socks and stood in that water, wishing it would make me free, somehow, from this slow-motion season of waiting that had become my life.
My life is over.
My bed has become my "safe" place. Here, the rest of the world doesn't exist. I don't have to think, I don't have to work, I don't even have to eat. For the past three days I have lived in a dream state, an antihistamine-induced marathon of sleep. No one has called. I got up once to use the bathroom in the dark.
I cannot face the shame of being unemployed, of admitting to my parents they were right about me. I feel guilty for drugging myself to avoid reality, but I tell myself it's only temporary. Only until I can figure out how to fix things. Or until someone else can figure out how to fix things. Maybe that's what I'm waiting for. For someone to knock at my door and offer to give me a job and cover this month's mortgage payment. Someone to live my life for me.
But no one will knock because I don't have any friends here. I don't know what day it is. I kind of smell. I never understood how my body could produce such an odor while I sleep. Maybe tomorrow I will shower. Maybe.
Posted by Alyssa Jones