For the one who woke me up, and drove me, and made me consider the world differently.
February 9, 2017
Sandy, as she was wont to do, was running behind. She collected her binder and necessary assignments that were due that day and loaded them into a blue backpack. She gathered her softball gear and stuffed it into an elongated sports bag that holds such equipment; a catcher’s mitt, a Louisville Slugger softball bat, some sliding pants, her warmup apparel. Things of that nature. She had no time to stop for coffee before first period so she snagged some off the pot that her parents prepared that morning and dumped a quick but effective load of hazelnut creamer into her black thermos and twisted the cap back on. Sandy then corralled the keys to the 2012 Toyota 4-Runner that her parents got her a couple months prior for her 18th birthday and sped down the city streets that took her to the student section parking lot of the high school she attended.
She looked at the digital clock on her dashboard. It read: 7:41. She had four minutes to make it to her first period class, physiology, as it were. Sandy didn’t have time to drop off her sports bag in her coach’s classroom so she figured she would find some time to retrieve it during the half-hour she was allotted for lunch. That wasn’t her primary concern in that moment, however. More so there was a fixation in her mind of making it to her first period physiology class before the bell rang such that the teacher wouldn’t give her another tardy for the school year, of which she had already amassed enough for multiple day-long suspensions even though none had occurred at that point. Sandy removed her blue backpack and walked through the gates and into the science section of classes within a wide corridor. The bell rang and she was roughly twenty feet away from her designated class, which felt more like a mile since she was walking in flip-flops, appropriately, given that she lived in Southern California and it was 77 degrees outside.
Casual is the word most individuals would use to describe how Sandy entered the classroom; she was a casual person. She possessed too much pride to look like she cared about arriving on time. She did not run or skip or improve on the pace of a casual walk as she headed towards the door. Oftentimes she showed up late to her first period class, but inside of her head she fancied herself as an above average student and if the teacher, Mr. Danielson, as it were, decided to dock her for being late by twenty or thirty seconds then the entire ordeal of being a student was a complete waste of time, she thought.
Mr. Danielson did not care that she was a casual person. He appreciated the fact that Sandy was a good student. Of the thirty or so young people in his class he no doubt believed that Sandy was one of his favorites. In moments where no one wanted to answer a fairly obvious question, or if he posed an innocuous statement in hopes of fucking off and entering into a discussion that would last for half of a class period, which is all he wanted most of the time because he was simply picking up a paycheck and only cared about the guy’s water polo team, which he coached, he could rely on Sandy to answer the question or pick up the slack to lead the discussion that would waste everyone’s time.
Still, when Sandy entered his classroom late he made sure to mark her tardy. He always marked her tardy, even if she was only late by a few seconds. This is what led to Sandy having 24 delinquencies during the first semester, and she was already on seven during the second semester even though it had only been about a month since the school returned from winter break. He knew she was an athlete. He knew that she contributed to wins on the girl’s varsity softball team. But he didn’t care. Mr. Danielson did not care about much of anything. He was fair that way.
Sandy continued on throughout her day as if it were any other. She was late to her first period, but she was not late to any others. She turned in the assignments that needed to be turned in. She answered text messages from the boys that wanted her attention. Some she didn’t respond to, but she could answer those any time she wanted because every boy at her school had no choice but to operate on her time. Sandy did not think very much about it, because Sandy already had a boy that she liked. His name was Royce. Royce did not go to school with all the other boys that wanted a piece of Sandy’s attention. He had a job and he made money and he could show her a different vantage point of the world than everyone else in her life.
The school day ended and Sandy went to her Toyota 4-Runner and got out her bag of softball equipment. She was the starting catcher on the varsity team and had offers to go to multiple schools in the state to play softball. She never viewed herself as a “softball player,” per se. She knew it was not what she wanted to do with her life, because there is not much of a future for girls who want to play softball for a living. Sandy wanted to be a nurse, or a veterinarian. She liked people but what she really loved, like truly loved, were dogs. She wanted to help dogs live longer than nature sometimes allows them to.
Softball was how Sandy imagined she would be able to accomplish her dream. She figured if the decision-makers were stupid enough to help pay for her to go to college, over something so dumb as a sport, then that’s what she was going to do. Sandy was always good at softball, but she did not love it. Her teammates loved her. Her coaches always loved having her, because she was good enough to make the teams she played on better than they would have been without her. Plus, her name was Sandy. What a great name for a girl who played a sport that was played on dirt.
Practice went how it seemingly always did. The girls did their stretching and Sandy was smiling and making jokes so her teammates would laugh. There was a game the following day against the primary rival of the school she attended, and all the girls were excited about it because they knew a lot of eyeballs would be watching and they were so confident because they were the best team in the league they played in. Sandy’s team had seven wins and only one loss on the year, but the one loss came against Mater Dei which was one of the best teams in the state, if not the country, so when they lost to them 3-0 no one seemed to mind very much. Half of Mater Dei’s roster was going to be playing at major colleges the following year, so everyone understood.
After practice ended Sandy went home and took a shower and it was around 6:00 when Royce called her. She was in her room and it made her so happy to hear from Royce. She had bruises and scratches on her legs from all the playing in the dirt she was doing during softball practice that day and in days prior, but she shaved her legs and made sure everything was nice and smooth for Royce just in case anything transpired that night. It hadn’t yet, not in all the months she had been in communication with him. But she was always ready just in case. She liked Royce very much.
At 7:15 he showed up and took her out to get dinner at a local In-N-Out Burger. They sat in a booth and he ordered a burger and she got a burger with animal-style french fries. They spoke of nothing particular but it was generally a friendly conversation. Once they finished they sat there holding hands from across the booth and many smiles were had and many sweet nothings were said. He wanted so badly, as he had many times up until that point, to ask her to be his girlfriend. But he did not. She, too, had yearned for such a question to be asked, in whatever way he wanted to say it, for she would have said yes or agreed or however these minor details usually work out before two young people become official. It did not happen in that moment. But that was okay. There would be many other moments.
Royce drove Sandy back to her parent’s house and they arrived around 9:00 in the evening. The moon was shining lurid against the backdrop of the night sky which featured very few stars — stars that were there, existing, but really weren’t there since there was so much light pollution and pollution in general of the Southern California city that they both inhabited. It did not seem to matter to either of them since they were there together.
He went out and opened the passenger-side door, the one where Sandy was sitting, as the passenger, and escorted her to the sidewalk. They walked around the neighborhood a couple times holding hands and occasionally embracing for a hug and a kiss. Sandy really liked kissing Royce, and Royce really liked kissing Sandy. They both felt so happy to be together all the time; it was virtually the only thing they each looked forward to on a day-to-day basis. But Royce knew she had to go to school in the morning and didn’t want to contribute to her being late again, and Sandy knew that she had to wake up and go through the painstaking process of existing in that setting. She was excited to play her intra-city rival, because she knew her team was going to win. She was looking forward to it.
Sandy went inside and put on some music and thought about Royce as he made his way home. He texted her at 10:30, but she was already asleep. The television set was still on, at low volume; some emotional alternative rock played on her stereo. Sandy’s alarm was set for 7:00 the following morning where she would enjoy another day of most likely rushing to school and gathering her belongings and making her way to Mr. Danielson’s first period class where she would again be extremely casual, as she always was.
February 9, 2017
Walter was sort of a mess. He was 27 years old and a reformed alcoholic and worked as a bartender at a hoity-toity upscale lounge in Orange County. He never worried about money, but then again money was never particularly his passion in life. Dating women was not something he frequented, either, but he did have a woman he really liked spending his time with. Her name was Rebecca, or Becky, as most people called her. Walter and Becky had been talking, or however you say, for the better part of the last year. She was a dancer. And she was more or less the only thing in the world that made Walt happy to be alive.
He woke up in his working class apartment, a bottom-stairs one bedroom setup in Anaheim, and began an attempt at another day. Walter’s cat, Phoebe, as it were, woke him up by standing on his head to look out the window at the birds chirping in the trees. He took a long sigh and gingerly removed Phoebe from his head and placed her on the pillow beside him such that Phoebe could still look up and outside at the trees and the birds that she was so curious about. Walter decided, at 8:47, as the red numbers on the digital clock at the edge of the room signified to him, that his best course of action would be to scroll through his phone and masturbate to give him the motivation to make it out of bed. Phoebe decided around 9:00 that she was no longer interested in the birds and more interested in getting in Walter’s way. So Walter tried to make it work. He let Phoebe rest on his stomach, with Phoebe’s eyes fixed on him, and Walter’s fixated on his phone, before Walter shucked Phoebe aside and finished in some tissues next to his bed. Now that he was on his feet, he could start the the day anew.
Walter took a shower and grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchen and went outside to smoke a cigarette. It was uncannily warm for a February morning, he decided, one where he wore a light jacket but really didn’t have to. He allowed Phoebe to come join him, not that there was much space for her to run around. Occasionally she would sneak beneath the wooden partition that separated his eight foot by twelve foot backyard patio space from the garden that surrounded his apartment, but quickly after she would start meowing and yelping for Walter because Phoebe really hated to be away from him.
He hated the sounds Phoebe made when she was screaming out for him, or when she was in any sort of distress. But ultimately he would always go out and find her, since she always wanted to be found, and he would carry her inside and that just made Phoebe so happy, always. Walter smoked another cigarette and decided to text Becky, even though he knew she didn’t get off work until like 2:00 in the morning and probably didn’t get to sleep until around 6:00 in the morning and usually, as it were, wouldn’t text him back until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. By that time Walter was getting ready for work at the pretentious lounge.
This dynamic from the beginning felt kind of foreign to Walter, but he didn’t mind it too much. After all Rebecca knew him better than anyone else did; he allowed her to see and know who he truly was, and he knew this made him extremely vulnerable and that he had sacrificed a ton of interpersonal leverage from his end. He could no less avoid any of these facts or feelings he had for Rebecca than he could waking up and falling asleep, or doing obligatory things like going to work and making money so he could afford to live in his apartment and pay his bills. Surely he wished for some things to be different. He wished she used her talents for a different sort of occupation. He wished the hours she worked were conducive to seeing him more often. Walter was happy with his situation and unfulfilled at the same time, constantly stuck in a sort of limbo where he was content with everything and nothing. This day he hadn’t yet heard from Rebecca, so he was content with nothing.
He got a quick workout in at the small gym-like section of his apartment complex, phone in hand and headphones spiraling in a tangled web from his ears as he ran on the treadmill. He kept waiting for his phone to vibrate with a text message from Becky, but it didn’t come. Periodically he would tap his phone back to the home screen to see if all the running and sweating had perhaps made him miss something, but he hadn’t. Best attempts were made at focusing on the task at hand, running in this case, but Walter’s brain kept making him think about Rebecca. He wondered if maybe he said something untoward in their last conversation, which was the night before, though he couldn’t imagine what it must have been. He convinced himself it was something, he just didn’t know what.
Walter finished running and went to the squat rack, briefly, before doing three sets of 20 reps on the assisted bench press. After each set he would remove his phone from his pocket and repeat the same process he did a handful of times during the 20-minute interval he spent on the treadmill. Still, there was nothing. Walter felt a sense of both deflation and confusion but inevitably made the dejected walk back to his apartment to shower again and get ready for work.
Black pants, black shoes, black socks, black underwear, and a black shirt that he hung on a hanger in the backseat of his generic black Chevy sedan: that was Walter’s uniform, and that was Walter’s car. He drove twenty-five minutes in rush hour traffic to make it the seven miles it took him to get to work. He exited his car and swung open the back door and buttoned up his shirt in a seamless motion he had done hundreds of times before and entered the back of the house to prepare for work. His phone read 5:44, and there was still no word from Rebecca. Before starting his 6 o’clock shift he could contain himself no longer; Walter called Rebecca and listened to the phone ring several times with no response and he felt no need to leave a voicemail because he knew Becky could obviously see that he called. He lit a quick cigarette and contemplated for a second the four minutes he would be wasting by smoking instead of prepping his bar, but this day felt so unlike all the other times this had happened for whatever reason. He was not a complete stranger to not hearing from Rebecca, but this was the first he couldn’t pinpoint why that would be the case. Panic enveloped his brain and bones and he didn’t want to do anything besides talk to her. This feeling was exacerbated by the thought that he wouldn’t have his phone on him while he was behind the bar. It needed to be secured in his locker. He took a final drag from his cigarette and peered down at his phone again. It was 5:57. He had to start working.
Walter made it behind the bar and put on his classic charm that he was paid to provide. He made drinks and engaged in small talk with a party of middle-aged well-to-do’s whom he knew wouldn’t even let him sweep their floors in a different context. It was part of his life: serving others. A couple hours later their bill came out to $147 and they tipped him $10. On to the next, and the next, and the next.
For so long, but especially in the last two years since he found sobriety, Walter felt like he became very strong at compartmentalizing his emotions. At one point he enjoyed a functional amount of cocaine on a daily basis and a particularly dysfunctional amount of bourbon. It, as these things tend to do, affected relationships with his significant others, his family, and his work life. So far he had come to arrive in this precise moment in his life where he did nothing beyond smoking cigarettes; Walter had what he believed to be a healthy kind-of relationship with Becky and was able to hold down a job at the ritzy lounge with dim lighting and purple and gold decor.
Tonight, Walter was miserable. There would be no time to appreciate how far he had come or where he was in life, not on this warm February evening. A Clippers game played behind him as he glanced at the glacially-paced clock that had been moving forward in slow motion since he arrived to his station. Walter had been waiting for it to be 9:00 so he could take a break, but it remained only 7:25. He served a couple more parties and opened a tab and made something called a Liquid Cocaine, then he looked back at the clock again. It was now 7:32. Seemingly everyone around him was smiling and laughing and carrying on garrulous conversation and Walter did his best to reciprocate. He eyeballed the beautiful brown bottle of bourbon that was sitting perfectly on the top shelf, showcased with a pretty white light to illuminate it along with the other expensive alcohol. He did this every other night, too. It never looked as good as it did in that moment, however, at 7:32.
Just one drink would not hurt him, he thought. Maybe if he just unscrewed the cap and filled his lungs with the wonderful aroma, maybe that would do the trick. He envisioned this sensation in quiet ecstasy as a group of young people dressed in pink and bright yellow polo shirts and khaki golf pants ordered a round of Coors Light’s. Walter then turned around with his back facing the bar to briefly wash a few glasses while he scanned the room behind him in the sliver of mirror that was in front of him, wondering, as he sometimes did, which specific group, if any, of these privileged patrons, were capable of possessing some coke that he could purchase. He took a mental note of some youthful yahoos sitting in elevated chairs off to the left, but he decided that the more likely group was a duo of middle aged men dressed casually who were mostly keeping to themselves.
The clock inched, and dragged, and pulled Walter with it to 8:45. He had been on the clock for less than three hours but had somehow already achieved his $300 quota for the night, mostly off a troika of 40-something year-old white women who momentarily took his mind off of Rebecca. He was able to smile and flirt to distract himself, and play pretend like he was a bartender working for tips, which he was. When he looked at their tab they matched their $150 bill with a $150 tip, and Walter was both surprised and disappointed that he was busy enough to not be able to say thank you for their generosity. Quickly, it was, that he moved on from that surprise and disappointment. His mind was on Becky, wondering what his phone was going to look like in a few minutes when the clock made its way to 9:00 and he could go on break.
Before clocking out for lunch Walter communicated with the other bartender, Lisa, as it were, about the tabs that were open and which credit and debit cards belonged to which customers. He made his way from behind the bar down the narrow hallway employees used to reach the back of the house. Walter left his locker without a lock on it so he would not be burdened with wasting any time once 9:00 struck, and walked with a nervous energy until he opened it.
Walter picked up his phone and tapped the screen twice. He had four new text messages, all from Rebecca, including two missed calls. As it turned out, her phone died. That’s what Rebecca said. She felt so bad about it, she said, and there was nothing she could do, she lamented, but she made clear that once her phone was charged that Walter was the first to know about it.
A vigorous sigh of relief made its way from the pit of Walter’s stomach up into his chest and released itself from the back of his throat and into the locker room that he stood alone in. He wondered for an instant if Rebecca was telling the truth, if her phone actually did die or if it was merely some sort of an excuse, something to help him make sense of why for whatever reason on this day she had not reached out to him. But that was immediately drowned out by the reality that Walter only had thirty minutes to be on lunch and he didn’t really care about anything other than Rebecca and the fact that he had now heard from her and he was suddenly extremely content.
He thought about texting her but decided he would rather call. She answered right away. Walter asked if she was working that night and she said no, so he then asked if he might be able to stop by and see her once he got off work. She said yes, of course, of course, enthusiastically. At 9:28 Walter told her that he loved her and Rebecca said she loved him back, and the rest of Walter’s work night went splendidly. His attitude matched the way he was feeling on the inside. He no longer wondered about how amazing the bourbon on the top shelf tasted or smelled. He did not even once look around the room wondering if anyone was carrying any cocaine. All he could think about was how happy he was going to be when he got off work so he could drive to Rebecca’s apartment and spend some time with her. So that is what he did. He left work at 1:00 and knocked on Rebecca’s door at 1:15 in the morning.
She greeted him in a pink robe and pink slippers. Walter wrapped his arms around her, inside the flaps of her robe, and felt her warm skin and delicate bones and told her he missed her while his fingers traced down the accentuated trench of her spine. It always got a reaction when Walter touched Rebecca in certain ways, in certain areas, and tonight was one of those nights where Walter wanted her to remember, remember that he knew those ways and those areas. He pulled Rebecca in tighter, first around her torso and then by the waist, close enough to where she could feel exactly how he thought about her.
They managed, through some blur that neither of them remember and that doesn’t matter, their way into her room and in no time Walter had detached her pretty and casual and comfortable undergarments. On top of her, making the sweet poetry that he always made, that felt so much like love to Rebecca even though she hadn’t really known what it felt like until Walter came into her life, they spent the night lying together and pretend-watching whatever was on the TV and saying things to each other that no one has to know about.
Rebecca fell asleep and Walter looked up at the clock and it read 3:05. The noise of Becky’s snores could not be ignored, nor could the volume on the television screen that was hanging on the wall. Walter didn’t know where the remote was, and it would have been too much of a hassle to disengage from Rebecca’s body with his arm around her and her legs on top of his, things of that nature. So he gave up. He considered it the ultimate victory that he not only heard from her that night, but that he was spending his time with her.
On this night, there would be no stress. It was just another day, not so unlike many others. He made it, he thought. That was all that mattered. He made it through another day sober, and he was soon to fall asleep next to the only person in the world he wanted to be with. Her name was Rebecca.
February 9, 2017
Chris and Jenny had been married for three years and recently had their first child, a boy, whom they named James. Both Chris and Jenny were second-generation Korean-Americans; they met at UCLA and both graduated from UCLA and were both working at fairly prestigious jobs in engineering.
They were each so excited when James was born and they were currently enjoying their time when the two of them could both be on leave from the fairly prestigious engineering jobs they both worked at. On this day, a surprisingly warm day in February, they both thought, it seemed like a good idea to drop James off at Jenny’s parents’ house so that the two of them could enjoy an afternoon hike together.
Water, sandwiches, snacks, sun screen, these were some of the items Chris and Jenny brought with them as they boarded their white Subaru Forester and made the hour-long drive up to the mountains. They stopped at the gas station and each procured a cup of coffee. The two did not talk very much during the trip, but neither of them really had to say anything. They were immensely happy together and always had been. They sat in relative silence and held hands for most of the drive as they listened to a podcast that Jenny really enjoyed. Something about new moms dealing with the experience of having children.
Chris parked the Subaru Forester on a wide strip of the mountainous highway next to several other cars, presumably people who were going to be hiking in Crestline alongside them, and collected their necessary belongings from the trunk. Chris strapped on the backpack that carried such items and reached for Jenny’s hand and the two of them walked in more relative silence.
It was colder in the mountains than it was back at their home, they decided, which is probably why Chris thought it would be a good idea to pack them each a jacket. They traversed the beginning of the trail that was mostly just an easy dirt path which featured assorted leaves that died sometime during the autumn months; Jenny had spent so much time as of recent in a sedentary state, for obvious reasons, and this was the first time in a long time that she was outdoors, using her legs, allowing fresh oxygen to fill her lungs and be able to feel the increased rate of her heart. Chris was always so empathetic to Jenny and her needs, especially during her pregnancy, and most of the time he opened his mouth to say something was simply to let her know that if she wanted to stop and take a break to just let him know. Jenny was strong, however, and full of pride, so no stops would be utilized on this hike.
The trees were large and beautiful and at times overwhelming. Rushing water could be heard in the distance, and remnants of snow that had not yet melted during this warm February afternoon could be seen spattered about the wet dirt and foliage. Jenny wanted to take a picture with Chris and he obliged, without smiling, which she did not very much appreciate. She wanted to take another one, so he gestured his lips and tried to crinkle his face in a vague attempt at smiling. Jenny liked that one better. So they kept walking.
After a decent uphill climb, one where Chris maintained his right hand on the small of Jenny’s back, and constantly devoted his attention in a type of silence that let her know she didn’t have to do this, that they could stop any time, or turn around if that is what she desired, the two of them finally reached the base of a waterfall. The sound of the water crashing down into the narrow river, which was surrounded overhead by massive wet boulders and enclosed by the large pine trees of the forest, creating a deafening surround-sound-style echo, made it nearly impossible to hear anything else. This was of no consequence to Chris or Jenny, since they did not have much to say anyway. They just stood there and held hands as Jenny pulled out her phone and captured a video of nature’s violent uproar.
They then walked a few hundred feet opposite the falls to a giant log masquerading as a long bench, littered with carvings of lovers and prior lovers of years gone by, etched into the wood. Chris wondered for a brief wrinkle in time how many of those couples worked out, and where they are now. Maybe that was their only time together. Maybe they had many more moments of the sort. Perhaps at some point in his life he would see more carvings and more initials and wonder about them, too. Jenny placed her hand on Chris’s right leg and rested her head against his shoulder blade, and they just sat there.
Chris pulled out a couple of the sandwiches, one for him and one for her, and they ate while listening to the water pour down in buckets off in the distance. The water could not help itself. It was coming from somewhere, but they didn’t know where and it didn’t matter. It was there long before Chris and Jenny decided to sit on this specific log; it would be there after they left.
Jenny remained sitting on the log, resting, as Chris walked with his hands in his pants pockets perusing the area. He noticed emptied water bottles and cans of popular soda brands sprawled about haphazardly near the edge the river. The California sun was beginning to fade behind the mountains and trees and wet boulders and the temperature was dropping precipitously, he thought, giving him the sudden impression that he and Jenny should turn around. Chris was so responsible about everything, all the time. He was not a risk-taker. His mind was very much geared towards eliminating problems or even potential problems before they became something he had to deal with. It is part of what made him such a good student in school and what made him such a productive engineer in his present reality.
Chris stopped at a rock whose integrity had been compromised by a royal blue hobo marker, the kind that you see graffitied in common areas around various parts of cities that was hard to erase. He did not know when it was used on this particular rock, or why, but he figured it was some young person who felt so desperately that they had to say something. He read it, and then he read it again, and then he read it a third time. The rock said:
I Cannot Forgive You
For All Of The Things
You Never Did
Who was this person who couldn’t forgive? Chris wondered. What things were never done that were so not worthy of this person’s forgiveness? He thought. He stared at that rock longer than he should have. Whatever it meant was probably much more shallow than the effect it was having on him in that moment. It very likely didn’t mean anything.
Chris turned around and instructed Jenny that the sun was going down and that they should make their way back to the white Subaru Forester such that they could go home and retrieve their son, James, as it were. Jenny obliged and grabbed Chris’s hand, and the two of them wandered their way back. Arriving at their SUV at 4:30 in the afternoon, they traveled down the mountain and stopped for a quick dinner before making it home.
Little baby James was asleep when they arrived at Jenny’s parents’ house. He was such a calm baby that he didn’t even wake up when they picked him up and carried him to the carseat and drove home. He was still sleeping when Chris and Jenny walked, very deliberately, to take him to his crib.
They went to their room and, exhausted from the hike in the mountains, made their way to bed. Chris and Jenny played no music. They had no television set to distract them in their room. They simply laid down, held hands, and fell asleep together.
February 9, 2017
Andy awoke in the middle of his night, 4 o’clock in the morning, as it were, trying to piece together the obscure details from a strange dream he just had. His best recollection went something like this:
He was standing in the middle of a small courtyard he did not recognize surrounded helplessly by a raging fire. It was indecipherable to Andy in this dream whether it was early in the morning or nighttime or some dusk-type hour, disoriented by the chaotic and dusty oranges and browns that fires tend to let off in the confusion of it all. It was hard to see at any rate. Amidst the turmoil Andy noticed two things: the first was a snake, a small but erect potentially violent motherfucker, looking directly at him perhaps five feet away.
Andy was not accustomed to seeing snakes in his everyday life so it tipped him off, pretty obviously, that he was in a dream. Andy had this particular prowess, if that’s what you want to call it; he did not much care for dreams or their meanings because he always knew when he was dreaming. In dreams that he liked, such as, let’s say, something that made him feel warm and happy, he would opt to stay in the dream and feel a sense of disappointment when he woke up. In dreams that he did not like, such as, let’s say, a nightmare, he could always get out of it simply by kicking out his legs and using his hands to punch the air and he would wake up that way.
In this dream there was a snake. That was the first of two things that Andy noticed. The second was a helicopter spiraling out of control directly above him as he looked up in the orange and brown dusty sky.
What was strange about it all, Andy thought while he was within this dream, is that he wasn’t exactly fond of the circumstances he was involved in but was also in no rush to kick his legs and punch with his hands to escape it. He was surrounded by fire and trapped in a small courtyard with a snake and a helicopter that he knew was destined to crash land right on top of him, yet he wanted to play it out. Andy heard vague screams from passers-by presumably helping him make an attempt at escaping the grave situation he found himself in, but he just stayed there eyeballing the snake.
He inched towards it and offered a kind of What The Fuck Is This All About stare; the snake did not feel threatened and did not move and the fire maintained its blaze in a steep but controlled fashion that suggested there would be no escape. Andy vacillated his attention between this potentially deadly and potentially benign snake and the helicopter overhead that was getting closer and therefore noisier. The chatters and screams of strangers he could not see grew louder. And the snake remained in its original position, ready to pounce yet unwavering in movement at the same time, sort of winking at Andy in a way to ask What Are You Going To Do About It.
As the helicopter executed its free-fall Andy just stood there, looking directly up at it. He knew from the beginning what it was meant to do in this dream; he knew he could have gotten out a long time ago simply by attacking the snake, or running through the fire, or by doing it the way he had done it since he remembered having dreams in the first place, since he was a little boy, by kicking his legs and flailing his arms, but he did none of that. He looked at the snake. He remained trapped in the fire. And he allowed the helicopter to smash him to smithereens.
Then he woke up. It was 4:13 in the morning. Andy still did not care about dreams, and wasn’t entirely affected by this one. But his instincts told him, for whatever reason, to reach for his phone and pull up the Internet to give a rudimentary search to what it all meant. This was quickly an exercise in futility, he thought, as upon typing in the search bar What Does It Mean When You Dream About Fire there were like seventeen different explanations and he read two of them and then decided it was all bullshit and this is why he never cared about dreams.
Still, Andy was unable to get back to sleep. He kept thinking about the snake, and why he was not afraid, and why the snake didn’t seem very afraid of him, and what did the fire and the helicopter represent. He tossed and turned and went back on his phone to scroll through various applications that involved people taking pictures of themselves, short videos that his catalog of friends and sort-of-friends made to showcase what was happening or what wasn’t happening with their lives, and then he turned on his TV and chose to just stay awake.
Andy was a 21 year-old who attended a local community college and worked on-call as a server at Chili’s a few nights a week from 7:00 until closing. He recently got broken up with by his girlfriend of two years, and in the month and change that had transpired since then he was living the life that many early-20-something year-olds often do to keep their minds occupied after a heartbreak occurs. Andy discovered drugs that he had never laid his eyes on, let alone partaken in on a recreational basis; he became a regular at smoking marijuana and began drinking relatively obscene amounts for the first time in his life; he dabbled in mushrooms and acid and ecstasy and even tried coke a handful of times.
He also found himself spending particularly shallow nights with various females he had swindled at the local community college he spent most days at. It all felt like a cliché, his life. He had built castles and orchestrated dreams in his imagination about marriage and children with his now-ex girlfriend and never really put a lot of thought into what the world was supposed to look like if all those wishes worked out in the fashion they usually do for people who are young and in love.
Most nights, whether it was after a six-hour shift at Chili’s, or completely blitzed off the drugs and alcohol he had only recently discovered, Andy would sit quietly, in his room or in some random place he drove to before making his way to the comfortable destination that home always offered, thinking about his former lover. In most instances he managed a level of discipline that would not allow him to send her a text message, or make the routine phone call that had become so second nature over the last two years. But, then again, one of Andy’s core problems was that he lacked such self control. Some nights were not like most of the others.
The worst part in his eyes was that he knew he was never going to get a response. He knew upon sending those text messages he sometimes sent, and dialing the number he sometimes dialed, that there would be no answer. Andy knew intrinsically, every time, and with instant regret, that he would wake up the following morning and feel like shit, in part because there was no response and in part for the fact that he sacrificed his pride and lacked the self control, and in a way would have to start over completely the next night. He hated this about himself.
On this day Andy got out of bed at 7:15 and took a shower and picked up a cup of coffee at the Starbucks he frequented on his way to community college. Since he still had no fucking clue what he wanted to do with his life, Andy took a smorgasbord of prerequisites that didn’t mean much of anything. Philosophy, creative writing, nutrition and fitness, art history and microeconomics, things of that nature. Mostly, at this point, Andy was merely seeking to pick up girls. That was his objective by going to school. A fairly smart person he indeed was, there was no possible way he could separate his depressed and anxiety-ridden disposition from the focus that five entirely unrelated classes demanded of him.
Writing is probably what Andy was best at, but he never knew it because he didn’t care enough and always viewed himself as some sort of amateur. In his creative writing class, however, there was a girl named Courtney that he sat next to and that alleviated some of his stress for an hour at a time and distracted him in the few evenings they had spent together outside of school.
Courtney was very pretty, Andy thought. She had natural yet faded red hair and pale skin and freckles and long legs that she liked to show off by wearing short skirts. On their first date, or however you say it, she told Andy that her dad died when she was young and her mom was a drug addict so she grew up with her grandma. She wanted to be a professional poet, she said, which Andy found kind of romantic and kind of stupid at the same time because he was a miserable son of a bitch. Andy was still learning about himself and the world and, despite beginning the process of understanding that everybody hurts in their own ways, and that everyone is dealing with something, all the time, he was not able to get beyond his own troubles. In Andy’s mind, his ex-girlfriend and the way she made him feel in the aftermath of their breakup was the biggest problem in the world, significantly more important than the death of this girl’s father or the fact that she had a harder upbringing than himself or her stupid dreams of wanting to be a writer.
Andy liked her though, he did. Despite some of the shallow evenings and antics of his post-breakup that got him high off of the sugar rush of it all, Courtney was the only girl in his life one would argue that he actually cared about. She was the only girl who could legitimately keep his mind off the only thing in the world that he wanted to think about for long enough stretches; though, in spite of that fact, even after spending what one would consider quality time with Courtney, he still found himself in the same position he did, every night, with his mind on his ex-girlfriend.
In creative writing Andy asked Courtney if she would like to go out that night, and she agreed. She liked Andy, too, more than he was capable of liking her at that time. She liked that he was pretty smart and was confident in himself, in spite of his sometimes-devolutions into talking about his ex-girlfriend to her. Andy noticed, with Courtney and with other women, that, for whatever reason, they seemed to enjoy the idea that he was unhappy. It somehow made him more interesting. He didn’t understand why this was or if it was even what was really going on. It was just something he noticed.
That night Andy took Courtney out to a local restaurant and they got a booth and ordered drinks and got food. Out of some minor fear, because occasionally these things just happen, when Courtney went to the restroom he opened the banking app on his phone to see if he had the necessary funds in his checking account to pay for the drinks and the dinner. The check came out to sixty-seven dollars and thirteen cents, and his debit card could only cover like fifty-two dollars. This forced Andy to use his credit card instead, which gave him a certain level of quiet satisfaction that he checked his banking app in the first place.
Andy then took her to a nearby hilltop that overlooked the lights of the city. There were other cars parked in the general location of his own, as it was a common spot for teenagers and other assorted young people to get high and do things that their parents probably wouldn’t approve of. Andy loaded a bowl of Blue Dream and passed the generically-sized pipe to Courtney and she made sure to angle the lighter off to one side of the bowl with the intention of letting Andy spark up the other side of the greens for himself. It was the respectable thing to do. Then he packed another bowl and they completed the same give-and-take once again.
The two of them just sat there, high, admiring the overlook of the city. Andy was quite content in that moment, and in the silence wondered what his ex-girlfriend was doing and if she was spending her time with someone of the opposite sex, as well, and if she, too, would enjoy this type of thing with him. Andy and his ex-girlfriend never smoked weed together, and, in fact, had never drank as much as one sip of alcohol together. It just wasn’t something they did. The high he got off of her was merely being with her, holding hands, walking around, smiling, laughing, kissing, going to her parents’ house while they weren’t there, having her at his parents’ house while his own parents weren’t there, things like that.
Andy would always be chasing that feeling, he thought. He, of course, was only 21 years old and did not know many things, but one of the things he did know, at that time, anyway, is that every day felt as if it was the end of the world. Every action and every inaction, every class period, every communication with every woman, was just a means to pass the time. It did not mean anything. Andy was rather like a rock tumbling farther and farther from the top of some hill that he believed he belonged on, simultaneously using time as a weapon to move forward and an impediment to stay right where he was.
Courtney reached for his hand, and Andy felt her tiny fingers mesh perfectly within his as they sat looking at the city lights shine like fireflies. He sort of tilted his head towards hers and somewhere in the haze of the multiple IPA’s he imbibed on at the restaurant and the Blue Dream they smoked on a handful of minutes prior Andy arrived with his eyes closed finding a rhythm and harmony with Courtney’s mouth and tongue as they made out in the front seat of his car. Many shallow breaths were taken, and assorted sighs, and an occasional grunt here and there, as the two young community college students, one who wanted to be a professional poet and the other who didn’t know anything at all, had a moment together.
Andy drove Courtney home, which involved more kissing, and sat in his car to ensure she opened her front door such that he could drive off. Immediately upon her exiting his mind left her, regrettably, and returned to the same spot it had been at for essentially every other waking moment he had been a part of since he ex-girlfriend broke up with him via text message some month and change earlier. He played some particularly hardcore and demeaning hip-hop music on his drive home in hopes of changing his outlook for the time being, but that failed. Andy then exited his car and made the silly walk he had made so many times before to his front door, using the key to open it, and shutting it and locking it behind him, things of that nature, as he knew the whole way that he would be spending the rest of his night in a sort of existential struggle to keep himself from sending a text message, or making a phone call, and more or less wasting time in bed doing nothing besides not sleeping.
On this night, Andy could not help himself. Following a fairly mundane session of smoking some more weed and munching on the Cap’n Crunch that rested so gloriously at his bedside, he pulled out his phone and sent something short and sweet to the effect of I Hope You Are Doing Well to his ex-girlfriend and put his phone back down to the spot he always put it and just sort of laid there in hopes of finding some peace for long enough that his brain would be tricked into feeling comfortable enough to fall asleep. Somehow, for whatever it’s worth, Andy saw his phone light up. He grabbed it with an excited energy that cannot be explained unless you know the feeling you get when you want to hear from someone and they actually want to talk to you, too. This was around the time his stomach filled itself with all the butterflies that people tell you about when you are a child, all the best and worst feelings in the world, and Andy was just so fucking happy for an instant.
The text message was from Courtney. She said she had such a great time with Andy that night, that she would see him again in a couple days in the creative writing class they both have, the one that starts at 8:30 in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week.
Andy chucked his phone off to his left side in disappointment, like he was discarding it. He looked over at the clock and it said it was 12:45. He hoped he could somehow make it to sleep by 1:00, knowing every time he looked at it past that point it would only give him more anxiety, that he had to be up in seven hours, and then six, and then five, and then four, and then after that what was even the point. Why wake up to learn about the Byzantine Empire, and then a couple hours later learn how to do a proper pushup, and then a couple hours after that learn about why Capitalism is the best economic system. It was all bullshit to Andy. It was all bullshit unless he got to hear from his ex-girlfriend.
He did not text Courtney back that night. Instead he writhed and withered around in bed until 3:30 in the morning, when he fell asleep only to wake up in a few hours and repeat in some fashion the same day he had been living for the last month and change.
February 10, 2017
The sun came up. Frost covered the windshields of Sandy’s Toyota 4-Runner, Walter’s black Chevrolet sedan, Chris and Jenny’s Subaru Forester, and Andy’s car, whatever that was. It was 46 degrees outside.
California sometimes does this, especially in the winter months. One day it will be unexpectedly warm, and the next it’s what most people think winter is supposed to feel like. Only in warmer places like this is it such an inconvenience, haggling between 70-something-degree days and 40-something-degree mornings, when most parts of the country would dream of such a blessing. Still, it was cold. Kind of. Depending on how you look at such things.
The clock struck 7:00 and Sandy was already awake, surprisingly. She had taken a shower and organized all of her belongings, placed her necessary assignments in her binder and loaded up her blue backpack and threw all her softball gear into her big sports bag. She felt a certain and specific sense of excitement, for whatever reason, whether it was the lingering sensation of the date she went on with Royce the night before or the potential of seeing him again, on this night, and by the time 7:05 rolled around she didn’t really know what to do with herself. So she loaded up her Toyota and pulled out of the driveway.
Walter’s alarm went off at 7:00 and he badgered himself, internally, for why he forgot to turn it off. He laid in bed next to Rebecca, who briefly woke up, and remembered that he was not at home and that Phoebe did not have any food and it was fortunate for him that he had the presence of mind to remember this. Despite not wanting to leave, wishing he could just go back to sleep and eventually wake up to spend the day with Rebecca, he understood that his cat needed him. Walter kissed Becky on the forehead and told her to go back to sleep, that he needed to go home and feed his cat, and whispered again that he would see Rebecca soon. I Love You came out, somewhere in the middle of all of this, and in her delirious state she said the same and he kissed her on the lips and exited her room.
Chris and Jenny were taking care of little baby James when 7:00 struck. The three of them were having a very pleasant morning together, smiling, laughing, doing the types of things that new parents do with recently-born children. It was Jenny’s idea that Chris make a trip to the store to buy some groceries, pork, rice, lettuce, some diapers, things of that nature. He obliged happily, since he would do whatever Jenny asked of him, all the time, without asking questions, without even feeling the pangs of the inconvenience people sometimes feel when they don’t want to do certain things. Chris hugged and kissed Jenny, then gave a kiss on the forehead of little baby James, who was nestled calmly and quietly in Jenny’s arms, told him he would be back soon, and left for the store.
Andy woke up without an alarm at 7:02. He was low on sleep but knew he had a 10:00 class, art history, as it were, and contemplated whether or not he should set an alarm and fall back asleep. His body was tired. But once he was awake he knew it would be very difficult not to be. He checked his phone and saw no response from the text message he sent to his ex-girlfriend the night before, which was not uncommon. It was actually one-hundred-percent-a-sure-thing common. He laid in bed for a minute or two and then he got up and took a quick shower before exiting his parents’ house to begin another day of keeping his mind occupied.
Sandy, Walter, Chris and Andy each arrived at a local Starbucks between a brief 7:21-7:24 window. This particular Starbucks was wedged in the middle of a fairly bustling strip mall, which featured a well-known gym, a popular sandwich-making establishment, a store where they sold and rented out video games, a mom-and-pop pizza place, a massage parlor and a barber shop, things of that nature, and featured assorted stone benches and metal tables with umbrellas propped up and metal chairs to sit at said tables and on a nearby corner had a woman dressed in a statue of liberty getup spinning a sign advertising for an insurance company across the street.
On this day Sandy had enough time to physically buy a cup of coffee before her first period physiology class, that was why she was there; Walter was two blocks away from Rebecca’s apartment, and, while he didn’t necessarily want to waste any time before he got home to feed Phoebe, thought an extra five minutes wouldn’t hurt; Chris thought it would be cute if he surprised Jenny with some coffee after his quick shopping duties were finalized; Andy just wanted to wake up a bit, perhaps sit at one of the tables with a cup of coffee to pass some time.
Sandy and Walter showed up at the same time, closely enough that Walter hurried a few paces to get out in front of Sandy to open the door for her. Noticing the letterman jacket she was wearing Walter commented that he graduated from that school about a decade before and wished her good luck, though she didn’t know with what, exactly. Was he referring to the sport she was playing? Was he talking about life? It didn’t matter.
They were, surprisingly, the only two customers inside the coffee shop at this time. Sandy ordered a cold caramel drink with extra shots of all the fun stuff, and as Walter went up to order a tall black coffee with no room for cream Chris opened the door and waited behind him. Walter stood off to the side and looked down at his phone, at nothing in particular, and Chris ascended to the front of the line and ordered himself a basic coffee with cream and sugar and a hot chai tea for Jenny and Andy came in behind him, looking intentionally ragged, with his head half down at his phone and half paying attention to the three strangers in front of him and a few baristas and a different Starbucks worker in the distance sweeping the floor and adjusting some of the chairs at various tables.
It was just another day in California, or America, as it were. Four individuals stood waiting in a Starbucks for their drinks to be made so they could get on with it, their lives, that is, whatever it was they were supposed to be or wherever it was they were supposed to go or whenever it was they were supposed to get there. Whether a high school student who knew exactly what she wanted to be, a college student who didn’t, an engineer who did what was necessary, or a sober bartender who was simply thankful for the day, this was a group brought together either by sheer randomness or something that many describe as everything happening for a reason.
The Starbucks door then flung open on the inside of the shop in an aggressive rage, barreled through by the shoulder. All four patrons, Sandy, Walter, Chris, and Andy, who had his back turned, as well as all three baristas working at the front and the one in the back sweeping floors and adjusting tables, were at attention. Before anyone had time to react the first gunshot from a fully loaded nine millimeter went off, a quick pop that made its way through Andy’s temple. Sandy screamed in horror, as did two of the Starbucks baristas, who suddenly hit the deck and crawled, along with the third Starbucks barista behind the front counter, through the swinging door leading to the back of the house. In the panic Sandy attempted to run away and sort of shuffled on the floor, in an attempt to make herself as small as possible while being able to move as fast as she could towards the side door, the one that the worker who was sweeping floors and fixing tables managed to squirt through, but the gunman let off three or four shots and one of them hit Sandy in the back. Walter and Chris were initially frozen in the chaos of it all; the gunman appeared focused on going after Sandy and so Walter contemplated making a move on him or trying to escape through the front door which had been vacated for a moment. By the time Sandy was on the ground, writhing in pain, the gunman had turned around and had the front door covered. In his do or die moment Walter lunged towards the man with the handgun and was subsequently shot once in the stomach and once in the chest. Chris kind of kneeled over at the side with his hands up, in the corner between the wall and the preserved sandwiches and fruits that were being sold upfront. He did not saying anything. The gunman walked up to him and administered the final round in his handgun into Chris’s forehead.
The gunman fled to his truck and removed the automatic rifle he had tethered around his neck, the one he didn’t know if he was going to use or not, and sped off to the sights and sounds of people running and screaming. An hour later he was surrounded by police and was somehow able to surrender himself without receiving the same fate he delivered not too long before inside the local Starbucks. Several police cars and a couple dozen police officers stood behind their doors, with weapons drawn, imploring the gunman to place his hands outside the window of his car. The gunman pleaded, and cried, and followed all of their orders.
When the police removed him from his car he looked absolutely pathetic, a young caucasian male with tears running down his face and shit and piss filling his camouflaged pants, pleading with the officers of how sorry he was while they jammed his face into the cold wintertime concrete and put handcuffs on him.
Andy and Chris faced the sudden death that usually comes when bullets travel through the head; Walter inevitably bled out before any reasonable help could have been offered to him; Sandy was unconscious but maintained a pulse by the time paramedics arrived. The bullet that hit her, the random one that hit her, or the one that was meant for her, however you see it, not only penetrated her spinal chord but punctured her liver on its way out. She survived for three and a half hours but ultimately never woke up.
The Southern California shooting was the major news story, for obvious reasons, on local news programs. The thoughts and prayers made their way from Facebook to Twitter to every other social media platform; national news, such as Fox News, dedicated two segments on all of their primetime programming into discussing why sanctuary cities do not work and never have, that California’s problem is not giving more people access to guns, and Good Guys With Guns, specifically; CNN and MSNBC produced blocks of television with liberal leaders who feigned support for gun control, blaming their Republican counterparts and the lobbying power of the NRA for why change is so difficult. All the while the gunman sat in a jail cell, alive, eating one of the three meals he was allotted for that day and every day that would come after.
Upon hearing the grave news, Sandy’s varsity softball team tried to postpone their game against their biggest rival. Despite the unnatural and devastating circumstances, it wasn’t really written in to the policy of the league to postpone games unless it was weather-related, so her team had to forfeit, dropping them to 7-2 on the season. Rebecca did not find out about Walter’s passing until the following day, for she didn’t watch the news and only heard, from coworkers and patrons at the club she worked at, that there had been another shooting that day. When Walter did not answer her text messages and phone calls that day, on February 10th, she grew concerned and learned via the Internet the names of the individuals that perished in the Starbucks. Jenny found out early on that Chris was one of the victims, watched the news all day with her parents and little baby James, who remained quiet as a rock not knowing, fortunately enough, what had transpired with his father. Jenny instantly regretted sending him out for groceries on that specific day, in that specific moment, and blamed herself for it every day after. Andy’s mother grieved, as did Courtney, as did Andy’s ex-girlfriend, but school went on the next day at the community college he once attended and Chili’s shortly thereafter hired two more on-call servers to replace him.
The following day, February 11th, 2017, as it were, one of the local news stations ran a story about a dancing chicken and interviewed its owner. They then transitioned to talking about the royal family in England, which was off on a vacation in Dubai. In the studio they featured a magician who performed a card trick where he swallowed a goldfish and regurgitated it along with a folded eight of diamonds, which was attached, by some form of adhesive, to the goldfish’s back. That was the card that one of the anchors had selected and shown only to the two other anchors and the audience as the magician had his eyes closed, turned away from the anchor who was showing off the eight of diamonds. All the anchors laughed in a fake sort of incredulous surprise, and the magician smiled and shrugged.
On the same day, Fox News spent the bulk of its time celebrating the stock market, which had rose by 1,300 points in a single day and, according to this particular network, it was all due to the conservative presidency. CNN and MSNBC brought forth a carousel of defense experts and former white house personnel and former government liaisons, former diplomats, people of that nature, to talk about how Russia involved itself in America’s recent election process.
The sun continued to rise; Sandy’s softball team finished first in their league and lost in the playoffs fairly early on; Walter’s cat, Phoebe, as it were, at some point made enough noise to get the neighbors concerned, and when ownership of the apartment complex eventually made its way through the door gave her the food she so desperately needed; Jenny buried Chris in a nearby cemetery, and raised baby James by herself for several years before she met another nice young man and ended up having two more children, both girls, with him; Andy’s memory just sort of faded off into the abyss, leaving behind lovers and former lovers and lovers he would never know.