Here’s the first chapter. And a quick synopsis, before you commit:
An art student, who has had her first taste of budding success, and along with that, the taste of critics, finds herself living in a small town after breaking under pressure that she was not ready to deal with. Shaken by her experiences in “the big city”, she isolates herself from life that goes on without her on the other side of the window she stares through, following people, wishing she could be out there living life with them.
But she’s in a slump, “the morning after”- state, and she has lost her will for going forward. There are stacks of unfinished sketches from a year before, untouched on the floor, reminding her what she left behind and what could have been.
One night she talks to a stranger online, another artist. She agrees to meet him and he is determined to help her out to get started again with her art, and so she makes the decision to return to the big city to face her fears and anxieties, scared of making the same mistakes she did before.
There are seven windows and three doors in this apartment to walk or jump out of, but I’m still stuck here, in this awkward space, breathing in stale air that has been lingering on for days now. Where’s my crayon. I wanted to try doodling a door of my own. Right there on the wall across my comfy sofa. I’ll make it nice and rosy too with lots of vines circling the doorframe, decorative. Maybe crashing through that wall would be easier than walking through the dead empty space he calls a door.
“You’re never gonna be happy, if you don’t learn how to live without constantly worrying about something. There’s always something to get paranoid over in your world. But guess what? Everyone has problems. That’s just life, learn how to fucking deal with yourself. I’m getting sick and tired of you crying every night.”
Why bother, I’m not a person. I’m an impersonator. I’m just pretending to live. Watching those people walk on the streets from my precious windows, touching the precious glass that separates me from the real world, their world. I leave smudgy trails on it with my fingertips while tracing their footsteps. And I will sit there for hours too… Waiting for the same old faces to pass by to see if their paths crossed with any of the other regulars’ trails this time.
Like that one fuzzy haired lady, who pulls her wheezing beagle in a trolley to the park every day at two o’clock. On Fridays I hoped she would play with her dog ten minutes longer so on her walk back home, with Benny the wheezing beagle, she would cross roads with this guy, who didn’t seem too messed up in the cuckoo clock. They had at least one thing in common: The traffic lights on the corner of Lock St. and Smith Av. and the taunting three minute wait for the lights to change.
He always carried a little portfolio looking book with him. Two months ago he had tied the little string holding the covers together loosely, and the 20 mph wind blew it open right when the red hand turned into a walking stickman. I didn’t care what fell out; sketches with box shaped concepts of buildings in them …Except for one sheet that looked like a quickly drawn beagle in a trolley and a lady with an awfully frizzy hair sitting next to it.
He might have thought the view he had been observing was only a subject with enough character to motivate him to draw something else besides straight lines on a paper with a measuring stick. But he also might have sat there on the park bench thinking, if he can’t ever get enough self-esteem to talk to her, he might as well have a fond memory to look at while waiting it to be April and the park would be opened again.
Connect to the world around you, isn’t that what they say? But the thought and the effort following it made my window all greasy and gray to the point, where the colors of the scenery faded and everything got blurry.
Sometimes I wished I could be outside too. Making invisible patterns on the sidewalk with my feet, maybe chance meeting a future friend, but it was too cold and bright out there, and fragile little flowers don’t take cold all that well.
That’s what he had said.
August 12th 2007
The first time he took me for a car ride to see something different, after a week of being inside again, I got a headache. It was exhausting to keep my eyes open and people were going by too fast; it was hard to follow them with my fingers, seeing what kind of paths they would take. The lines on the car window weren’t smooth and round like in my living- or bedroom, they were jagged and edgy instead. But at least I was looking through a different glass now.
He said maybe I had a brain tumor; getting headaches, being sensitive to light, throwing up frequently. Maybe it was growing there like a big spider, tickling me. Or maybe my lungs were not letting enough air into the blood circulation, feeling dizzy all the time like that.
I looked back at him, with my eyes focused on the outline of his right iris staring at the road ahead: “Yeah, sure, I’m dying, right?” I was hoping he had smirked or smiled or anything, made a joke out of it to sustain the supporting wall in my universe, but he didn’t: “Well, you kind of are. Don’t you know that?”
F you I thought, but instead of saying it to the profile of his annoyingly grave face, I just turned away and pressed my thumb on the window again, looking for the next target. “I can hear you grinding your teeth all the way from here you know, why can’t you just share your thoughts with me?” He had noticed my dissatisfaction.
Because I don’t want to be pathetic anymore… Because I don’t want to be irritating and give you another reason on your list not to take me out again: “Well, I just thought… You’re tired of hearing it.” I knew he would give a quick glance at my direction every few seconds now without seeing him actually do it, I was learning all of his mannerisms. “Tired of hearing what?” He asked.
I could feel my chest tighten; it was squeezing out the last bubbles of air that had circulated in this awkward body along side with five quarts of blood, from my oxygen deprived heart to my spider ridden brain: “Never mind. I’ll tell you later, I don’t want to get into another argument …You know why I like car rides?” I was trying to rub off my finger-grease funk off of his windshield now.
He was finally smiling and relief let my life sustaining respiratory system fill with fresh air right from the car’s ac. We had been bouncing off of each other the whole day, on and off. I don’t think he could have taken another comment on how repetitive and sad my life was. That was my rehearsed routine of trying to get attention in his world, where I was supposed to be only a visitor, hoping to prolong my stay for another day with behavior that started to seem very paradoxical; rejecting him by whining and dining on misery, and then telling appetizing stories about it. It was like adding sugar to a tomato sauce that was already sweet enough to get someone addicted, but I wanted to make sure I had the salt at hand too, just in case I would overdo it.
”Why do you like car rides? And… You do realize I’m not letting you off the hook that easy, but please do tell me first, why you like rides in my car that much?”
Because you’re a good driver. Because you let me lay in this cocoon of a mind without pointing it out every five minutes and you still enjoy talking to me… Or that’s what you told me: “I didn’t say I like rides in your car, I said I like car rides… There’s a difference, you know.”
“I’m sure there is… And the difference is …That you like me. A lot.” He wasn’t smiling anymore. He was grinning. That arrogant little brick. I didn’t like being challenged, when I finally decided to talk: “You’re getting sidetracked; we’re not in a sappy teenage romance novel, where two people are all goo-goo gaga after one week of knowing each other.”
“That we certainly are not …” He paused, entertaining a thought. “But it’s always a possibility. And second of all, you’re the one, who started talking to me a week ago. As a matter of fact, you were being a smart ass and I was the one trying to ignore all of that, but you’re like a Molotov’s cocktail. And third of all… Like I said, you like me; I never said I found you attractive.” The spider infiltrating my brain had weaved its web right in front of me and I had walked right into it. And I thought I had been so god damn smart.
“You just like being right. That’s the only reason you’re saying that. Why would you sacrifice your more than money can buy downtime hours on a person, who’s so weird and appalling?” I attempted to sweep aside everything that was reminiscent of the sticky spider web I was struggling in.
“Now that’s where you’re going wrong, I didn’t say I found you appalling either, and remember… You’re the one, who said it. Not me. I think you’re more like a Rubik’s cube, a puzzle. No, hell with that. You’re an enigma. And I like enigmas.” He sounded as if he had meant it. But then again, he did say he liked Rubik’s cubes, so I just fell into a general category of entertainment …That’s all.
His side of the car seemed a lot bigger than mine all of a sudden and he had noticed it too: “Are you getting sad again? God…How can a person go from having fun to falling apart in just a minute?” It’s not my fault; you’re the one, who started it all …Just keep lying to yourself …That’s gonna make it all fine and dandy.
“Listen”. Why was he grabbing my hand. “I would never want to hurt your feelings; I just wanted to give you something to laugh about. I thought we were having a good day here; I made you pancakes, I took you to a ride, we were having a nice adventure, and now you’re all poopy faced. I know you don’t have a lot of friends… or that you don’t get to have a lot of fun in your life, so I wanted you to experience something different.” And he let go.
Great. I had always wanted to be involved in charity. How was I supposed to reply to that without really saying anything at all …Knowing he was right. I didn’t want to be sad all the time, I just was. I didn’t know how to get out of it, I didn’t even know, if I wanted to get out of it. Somberness was all there was now. It was too easy, being happy was too much effort.
“I like car rides, because it kind of lets me forget about the rest of them, I can observe the world, but I’m going too fast for the world to observe me. Usually it’s the other way around, when I’m out here.” And I liked rides with you, because I didn’t feel so alone anymore doing it.
“But wouldn’t you like to be a part of that world? You can’t just isolate yourself from the rest of ‘them’. They’re a part of you, whether you want it or not. We all live through the same stuff, friendships and loneliness. Even I went through that.”
A part of me? Just because we shared the same rock of a planet, didn’t mean I was a part of them. “Well guess what, I didn’t grow up to be your typical kid, by the time I was seven, I was already heating my own meals in the microwave and by the time I turned twenty one, I had already lost everyone I had ever loved, so there you go.” There it was. My typical impress them, how I survived life and grew up to be tough line. See through that.
The song on the radio seemed a lot crispier and louder than before…Breathing is the hardest thing to do… The smudges left on the glass looked a lot bigger too. He seemed awfully quiet. Had I scared him off now? I just wanted him to back off a little. I wasn’t ready to have the conversation I would have with my pastor, if I were to go to church. Having a conversation and confessing your sins were of different caliber. I didn’t have the right gun for that yet, and my ammo was really just blanks making a big noise with very little effect …Apparently.
“I’m sorry to hear that. And you do know I was just messing with you, saying I don’t find you attractive, I wouldn’t waste my time talking to a person I didn’t find truly interesting. You’re fun to be with… You should give more people a chance to see, who you are.” Really, was that so, I was flattered. Thanks.
“And I think I can help you too. With your anxieties. I was there not too long ago myself, afraid of life, closed up like a flower at night…” The air was stinging my lungs, it tasted tangy, and the tomato sauce had got all messed up. Usually I knew how to make it just right. “Some flowers bloom at night, you know, just in case you didn’t…”
“Ok, thanks for informing me, but I got over it, and I know you can too, you just have to give yourself a chance to do that.”
A chance. I hadn’t heard that word in a long time. Not ever since I received a letter congratulating on being granted admission to a school, which would open a lot of doors. Little did I know the door I chose to walk through would lead to a purgatory, but there wouldn’t be anyone leading this little girl by her hand to see the spheres of heaven and visions of God …Not everyone had the luxury of mister Alighieri.
“I used to be normal… I had friends, and…A life. I wasn’t like this before. I was on my way to a better life.” It was like trying to whisper nice words to a hurricane to make it stop the winds from blowing. “Normal? I highly doubt it.” I thought I begun seeing tornadoes in the eye of the hurricane too, sweeping the grounds clean from all kinds of trash, cars and wooden sticks that used to be houses. “Yeah. Normal. Is that so hard to believe?”
“Do you know what the definition of normal is?” He seemed to be reaching level five. The hands that had been steering the wheel with a light touch of his palms were grabbing the wheel at ten and two o’clock now, as if he was trying to choke the poor car into a better handling of it.
“What? Being average or within certain limits?” I knew how to define it. The other way of putting it would be saying that normality is a lack of significant deviation from the mainstream, the common. “Exactly, and you know, where normality leads thousands of people over the course of their lives?”
“A steady salary and benefits.” That’s where I had been aiming, steadiness. I would have been so good at it too…if only I would have not happened. Taking a deep breath to block the projector from pumping out images of memories only woke up the spider; it was eavesdropping, having devious thoughts to be imposed upon others.
“A salary and benefits …That’s all you wanted out of life? Man. That’s an easy life, giving out your paycheck to banks and different companies, letting them decide where to send out the money you worked for. Being a slave to them, that’s how the system was built for normal people.”
“You’re starting to sound sketchy, what are you trying to get at?” I wouldn’t be taking another ride anytime soon. “Let’s say you got the job you wanted, made so much money you would be crying out of frustration trying to find things to spend it on, and put most of it to your saving’s account. To get that loan you needed for buying the house you always wanted… Just like a normal person would do. Right? To be able to have that better life you seem to be so fond of?”
“Right, so what’s your point?” I was getting tired of being picked up by the wind and being tossed around, just to find myself with my face buried in the mud once I landed. “My point is, that instead of working towards having that better life, you will be working to keep up with all the payments you have, working to keep all the companies you owe money to happy, busting your ass to have a great life on paper. What I’m trying to say is that… That kind of life sounds pretty abnormal to me. And abnormal is departing from behavior and intelligence that is moral. What’s normal, moral to you… Hasn’t been defined by you yet. The definition was given to you by people with profit in their interests to support the lifestyles of a small group of people.” He ended his conclusion, and his palms were in charge of driving the car now.
Why was this happening again, why did I manage to meet all the crazies. What he seemed to be lacking in his thinking was, that philosophy is all dealt with on paper, making lives better between covers, failing to apply the methods discussed to improve the quality of life of real people. Instead there had always been a bunch of happily ever after living paper dolls in paper houses: “So you’re saying I’m actually quite lucky not to have gone through the painstaking responsibility of producing enough funds to have a house, or a car?”
“Yes, maybe. But you’re oversimplifying what I’m saying. All I’m trying to point out is, that being the normal person you seem to miss so much might have not been so great in the end, so don’t put yourself down, just because you chose a different route to live your life.” He left a void between us, I could have filled it with a response, but I chose not to.
And then he continued: “You wouldn’t be here in this car, if you had been completely satisfied with the way things were going, and you should at least have the decency of admitting to that. You can have the most respected degree in the world and all the credits on your resume, and all of that amounting to having the impression of being a complete zero. You have to learn how to proceed in life. Only then will you find happiness and survive.”
I wasn’t breathing anymore, he had found the eye of the bull, hadn’t aimed at it, but showed, where it could be found. I couldn’t find the will to throw anything at it, not even a paper plane. Paper dreams with wings for paper people. That’s what I had wanted, for what it had ever been worth. If only I had gone through with the picture perfect plans that had been drawn out by the counselors I had had, I would have been paying many deposits to companies to make sure I existed in this life. At least as a billing number to them, if not as anything else.
But I hadn’t, and that’s what made all the difference in this world, what you did, not what you had planned on doing. I still held on to the image though, it was nice to know I could have made certain people proud, if I had wanted to. As if the choice had ever been mine.
I felt the car slowing down; he was pulling to the side of the road, we had reached the destination. I’m sure the view was magnificent. An ocean or something. I just didn’t want to look up and see what I was missing out on by not being out there. I might have had regrets. “Listen, life is very simple, either you do, or you don’t, either you proceed and survive, or halt and fail no one but yourself. Everyone deserves to be happy, not just ‘them’, like you feel.”
“And you know what I’m deserving of, based on one week?”
“I knew it after one hour; it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to read you. I know it sounds a little far out there, but it would be crazier to let another possibility to walk out of your sight …I can help you.” I felt his expectations of my opinion being let out in the open hovering in the air, but I couldn’t. Instead, he proceeded to voice his:
“Move in with me, and I’ll show you how to live.”