to be filled
with thoughts and words
as they build
images and worlds
through my mind
that carry you
into others’ lives.
to be filled
with thoughts and words
as they build
images and worlds
through my mind
that carry you
into others’ lives.
Something strange happened to me the other day.
I was in the airport bathroom en route to Phoenix when two Latino ladies approached me. One was older with lines of age marking her face and hints of grey about her forehead. She was dressed in some heavy clothing for August and had a work apron on top of it all.
The other was younger, her wide black eyes more pronounced by the smoothness of her skin. A loose patterned sweatshirt hung about her over black leggings.
They spoke quickly in Spanish to one another as they approached me with some hesitation. The young woman said, “She would like for you to leave a comment.”
I scrunched my brow, unsure of what she meant. “You want what?” I asked.
“Senora, Senora, ” the older one said. She raced back over to a janitorial cart and brought back a stack of napkins. On one of them, someone had written some words in Spanish in a lovely, cursive font.
“See, see.” The woman pushed the napkin closer to me, keeping an expectant gaze. I stood dumbfounded, unable to read it. My one year of language class was not paying off.
“She wants you to write a comment,” the younger one spoke again, “of this place.” She held out her hands. “Of her work.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, finally grasping the meaning. The older woman laid down a new napkin eagerly, placing the previous one close by for an example.
“Olga,” she said, pointing to herself. Her smile brightened as I uncapped the pen and started to write.
When I handed it back, she thanked me repeatedly and then went right back to work, wiping all the counters down even though they were already clean.
I’ve thought back on this interaction in several passing moments now. And what I always circle back to is the woman’s sheer joy for the comment. She had no idea whether I would write something good or bad. But yet she seeked it all the same – language barrier or not.
And I could see her dedication to the job, too. Cleaning bathrooms is not a pleasant job – and the ones at the airport are nowhere near the top of the easy list. But here she was, so motivated and happy. Utterly happy.
And then I think about my own job and how a day with an emotion like that is nonexistent. I would never ask for a comment card for the fear of making the day that much worse. But why is it like that? Why shouldn’t I seek the same joy?
I mean, come on? It can’t be that hard. Pull the trigger. Slide the knife. Drop a forty ton cement truck on his head.
Okay, maybe the last one is a little eccentric, but…
Before you judge me just like everyone else – Tommy included – you should probably know the story first. Like actually take the time to understand. Don’t dismiss me or write me off for a stereotype. There is a lot more to me than that.
When I was ten, a bucking blonde brat that didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quiet,’ my single, trailer-loving mother met a man. Rodney.
His sudden presence in mine and my younger brother’s life was surprising. You see, my mother had always worked hard. She pulled two jobs and rarely ever took time off throughout the year. And the time she did have was filled with her collapsed on the sofa watching soap operas and filling her veins with booze. And I can’t forget the constant slurred shouting at us about her feet that felt like jello and the endless exhaustion she had felt since the day of my birth. It was, of course, our fault that she had to work so hard. Nevermind the fact that she chose risky sex in the back of sedans as a highschool past time.
With all this work my mother did, I was stunned in how she found the time to meet a man. And more stunned that any man took the time to notice her. Rodney was okay looking if you go for the tight wife-beater and pot-belly types. But what my mother really liked was his money.
He bought her things. Lots of things. Flowers, clothes, jewelry, cars. Yes, cars plural. My mother even go to go to one part-time job with him around. She was in heaven.
So you’re thinking much like my twelve-year-old mind was one day after fixing me and Jake our third box of mac and cheese. Where does this guy get this money? And why on earth my mother? I mean, I heard the screaming and bed bumping game they loved to play at night, but was that enough?
It didn’t take me long once he found me old enough to start taking on responsibility. That’s really what he said. “You are now old enough to start taking on responsibility.” With that he shoved three pounds of cocaine into my Hello Kitty backpack and told me to stop at fifth and Lewis on my way to class. The guy there would know what to do. Just say Rodney sent you. I still remember seeing my mother standing behind him, smirking with white powder crusted around her nose. Now her kids may finally start knowing what working hard is all about.
And that was my first drug run.
I made out with a whole single chocolate bar from the ordeal. With each visit that continued after, the reward got sweeter.
By the time I was sixteen, I was running the system with Rodney and we worked well together. Really well. I handled the clients and delivery. He handled the cash and product. He was never late in meeting my customers demands, and I was never late in bringing in the profits. My own brother even became my top runner. (It’s hard to believe those sweet kids could do any harm.) It became the family business. Sure, mom had a little concern every now and then but a new bottle of Captain Jack would always shut her up.
The money was amazing. True it was hard to leave and take a vacation on it, but it could still get you what you wanted to make home that much more comfortable.
Everything was smooth sailing. I even became popular at school. “Paging Paige,” they would say. Highschoolers were constantly in need of a fix. Something had to transcend them out of their boring, suburban lives. And they would pay you close to anything to make it happen.
At one of those parties is where I met Trevor – this red head, geeky kid with dad jean’s and a plaid button up. He looked so out of place in the crowd, just standing with his hands tucked neatly in his pockets. Everyone around him drunk or high and shouting to speak. But his voice was calm and smooth – he had everything under control for a teenager. Or so it seemed.
Trevor was unlike the other boys I had met before. That usually started with a nod and ended with a quickie on the bathroom counter. But Trevor was shy and was actually more interested in me. You have to understand that was a total shock. Everyone else just wanted to know what I could do for them. Never would they ever ask about what they could do for me. Or even about me for that matter.
And so we started dating – me and Trevor. I told him a lot about myself. Rodney, Jake, my mother. Everything from age one to present day. And he just soaked it up. Nodding, smiling, offering advice. Listening – it was a new part of human life for me.
He would park his bike in the drive at five sharp and we would take off for our daily walks. Down and back my street, stopping sometimes at a small park; enjoying a streak of normal in my otherwise strange life. I learned a little about him and he learned a lot about me. For months this continued, just me and him.
Funny thing is, Trevor never forgot a word of our conversations. No, it was near possible for him to. Oh and he just played it so well on the witness stand, spilling our secret words and amusements to every fucking reporter, judge, attorney, and god-forsaken juror in the courthouse. You see, every time we met he wore a special little wire that fed our magnificent lovebird voices to a DEA van a few blocks away. For him the whole thing was just another undercover job. I was the mouse and he was the cat, tenderly waiting to sink in his teeth. And sink them he did.
All said and done, our operation was raided and picked bone dry. I missed out on the action, being cuffed and sitting in a cell at the time, but word has it that Rodney fought back, firing all the AK’s that we kept lying around. He didn’t win, but did manage to accidentally nail my brother in the back of the head during the commotion. They say he died instantly with my bereaving mother dwindling between tears and vomit beside him. I have always felt regret for my brother – it should have been me beside him instead of the trainwreck called mother. His thirteen years were short and ugly.
Since that day, I never trusted anyone again.
Sweat perspired on my forehead, glossing it like a shiny plastic doll. The heat was rising out of my head at an alarming rate, warming my thoughts to mush. I couldn’t think straight; everything was a magical blur of words and sounds.
The hard toe of my black Salvatores gently tapped the grey berber that covered the room. Puh. Puh. Puh. The rhythm brought some comfort to me. Something familiar, consistent.
There was a lady across the way. Mid-thirties, blonde, attractive. She wore a short navy blue skirt and polished white top. Her neck was curved to the right as she flipped through a magazine. Her long nails scratched the surface.
I looked up. A woman stood at the door of the office entry, questions posed on her face. A pleasant face though.
“Yes,” I got up tugging my briefcase along, “yes, that’s me.” I smiled briefly and offered my hand. She returned it with a casual shrug and motioned for me to follow.
We filed past rows of glass doors. Each tightly closed with people inside bent over desks, their eyes constricted to screens. I caught a glimpse of one office that housed a plant. It’s bright red flowers a striking contrast to the bleakness that surrounded it.
“Here we are.” She stopped abruptly at a door labeled ‘Conference.’ “Good luck,” she said with a smirk.
I pushed on the faux gold handle and entered the room. A draft of cool air surrounded me as I looked around. The long windows at one side had been covered by a dark curtain, secured neatly at the sides. A long boardroom style table held most the space with recessed, circular lights along the walls perimeter. At the end sat a man slumped over a stack of papers and writing feverishly.
“Sit,” he commanded, not bothering to look up.
I made my way to the opposite end and drug out a chair. It was surprisingly comfortable. I rubbed the soft arm rests with my hands, flushing the material. It occurred to me after some time that the man had stopped writing and was observing my behavior. His face was cold and wrinkled. His glasses barely hung onto his paunchy face, his body an overflowing tub of grease.
“David, is it?” His voice separated by the effort to speak.
“Yes, sir. David Urnst.” I sat up and straightened my tie.
He made a mark on the paper in front of him. “Ohio?”
“Yes, Cleveland. Born and raised there.”
He grunted. “Kids?”
I paused and looked at the grisly man. “At one point.”
His laughed stifled into a cough and he continued. “Past?”
He nodded and continued to write. “I could have guessed that. Future?”
I bit my lip. This answer was the crucial one. A wrong answer here and I would lose it. Or at least that’s what they told me. It would mean back to the grunge. Just another day, like everybody else.
The man looked up, surprise covering his face. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I smiled.
He raised his eyebrows and wrote down a long note. “Very well then. You may go.”
I looked around. “That’s it?”
He nodded. “See yourself out. Veronica is not the best at knowing when these little things are over.” He ginned, exposing his yellow teeth.
I got up but paused at the door. “When will I know?”
“Two weeks or so.”
He sat back in his chair and looked at me for a moment. “You’ll know. There won’t be any toe tapping for home after that point, though.” He winked. “No such thing as a home really.”
I nodded and went out the door. No such thing as a home repeated in my head. What did that mean?
At the end of the hall Veronica waited with door help open into the waiting room. I noticed the bright red flowers were now wilted as I passed.