“Wow, how can you even get any sleep around here?” I heard Andrew yawn before rolling over, stealing all the covers and chuckling a bit. He scooted close to me and wiggled his butt on mine.
I drifted out of sleep and laughed at him, stealing my covers back. “What are you talking about?” I yawned, disoriented after being woken up like that.
“The L! How can you sleep with all that noise?!” He jumped out of bed and rubbed his face aggressively before opening up the curtains, much to my dismay.
“I don’t hear the trains but I do feel that sunlight. What are you doing?! I had an hour left until my alarm went off, rude!” I grumbled, covering my face with the comforter, trying to fight off the unwelcome sunlight.
He quickly closed the curtains and apologized before pulling the covers down and kissing my forehead. His morning breath hit me instantly and I felt bad for being really grossed out but, whoa it was bad. “I’m sorry! I forgot! But you really don’t hear the trains when they come by? They’re incredibly loud. I mean, they shake the entire building.” He laughed, staring off into space, most likely waiting for the L to keep moving away from us.
I rubbed my face, “I don’t know. I guess I’m just used to it. You should be too though. I mean, I’ve been living in this apartment for the last four years.” I sat up and looked out the window through the curtains, the sun still slightly burning my eyes.
“I thought I was used to it! Maybe it’s just because I know we won’t have that in our new place.” He crawled back onto the bed and kissed me before doing a little jig on his way into the bathroom.
It felt so weird, talking about moving with him. I really loved my apartment, only it definitely wasn’t big enough for the both of us. We talked it over. And talked it over some more. And then he had to convince me… about five times that it was time to move. Hearing him call it ‘our new place’ felt so very unreal, so very ~adult.~
I remember when I was younger, I would think about it and wonder what it would be like to move in with a person that I was in love with… but then I became an adult and moved in with that person and let me tell you, it’s definitely not what I thought it would be. I mean, he’s a straight up slob and leaves his dirty clothes everywhere. Like, have you ever gotten out of the shower and stepped out onto someone else’s dirty underpants?! It’s super annoying. And don’t even get me started on trying to make him do the dishes or take the garbage out… Or, when he plays video games, he’ll get irrationally angry and sometimes he’ll take that stupid anger and make it last all day. It’s like being roommates with a teenage boy.
When we first moved in together, it was exactly how I pictured: Cute nights in, cuddling in our bed for hours on end, constant kissing and laughing… That “honeymoon phase” is a hell of a thing, but then all of a sudden, you blink and it’s gone. Forever. The cute nights in aren’t as cute as they’ve become more so routine. The cuddling in bed is actually just us laying together on our phones under two completely different blankets because we’re tired of sharing. The kissing isn’t as constant and the laughing isn’t as often. Living with someone isn’t always romantic and I feel like realizing that sort of shattered my perspectives on life and love.
I complain to my mom about it but I never really get any sympathy from her. I mean don’t get me wrong, she listens and interjects, sometimes even taking his side when I need to hear that I’m being childish. She had just felt the same way about him and us for a while now and didn’t necessarily hold back. She was worried he would never change, worried that we had gotten too comfortable too quickly and that I had given him too many chances, worried that I had already seen the best of him. She had seen his dirty clothes all over the place, she knew he and I fought sometimes and that he never apologized, she knew that asking him to change was not in the cards.
After we introduced our families and after we all started celebrating the holidays together, she started noticing a pattern. See, her theory is that his mom babied him; never made him do anything. Like, literally anything. They were a family of procrastinators; “we’ll worry about it tomorrow,” they would say but then when does “tomorrow” become today, y’know? When he still lived at home, on the rare occasion that his mom would ask him to do something, he would nod and confirm but then he just wouldn’t do it. Any time anyone ever asked him to do anything it was almost always an inconvenience to him. And then he would require a reminder and then another reminder and then suddenly, he was arguing with his mom and making a giant scene because she had simply asked him to take out the garbage. He didn’t necessarily have any respect for his parents, mainly his mom, and after my mom told me this, it became one of the main things that irked me about him. I could deal with him leaving fifteen different pairs of socks on our bedroom floor, I could deal with him buying paper plates instead of doing the dishes like I had asked him to do... But I wasn’t sure if I could actually deal with the way he treated his mom. Mainly because, well upon closer inspection, I came to realize that the way he was with her was pretty much how he was with me. That’s why I would get so pissed when I would come home to find out that he hadn’t actually done his laundry or the dishes or taken out the garbage but had instead, just played video games and drank beer with his friends. Like, that’s cool and all but with work, sometimes I could be gone for like ten hours at a time… you mean to tell me you can’t wash a few dishes at least?! (Rant over.)
Andrew was never rude or mean or anything with my mom; that was never an issue. Believe me, if he had ever been rude to her I would’ve kicked his ass. And then I would’ve waited outside his house the next day and kicked his ass some more. And then I would start just randomly picking days where I would show up and beat the shit out of him for the rest of his life; like a terrible game of Tag. No, the problem was that he was always rude to his mom and it just didn’t sit well with me.
My mom is my best friend, let me just throw that out there. We were NOT close when I was a teenager but that’s only because I was a huge bitch. I don’t know if it was the hormones or if we’re all just like programmed to be mad at our moms all the time when we’re thirteen but I’ve definitely come to regret it. She’s always been there for me, no matter what. Yes, I have other friends but let’s just say, if I had a MySpace right now, she’d be in the number one spot. Unfortunately, friends come and go but my mom has never wavered. Not even once. Not even back then when I would yell and scream at her even though all she wanted to do was take me shopping.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Andrew and we’re really happy together. It’s just… Yes, I’m smitten but we also argue a little more than I’d like. And, well I’ve never really admitted this before but, a few times after some pretty bad fights, the thought of breaking up with him sometimes crossed my mind. When I really sit down and think about it, sometimes it feels like all of those little things that trouble me about him are forming into one giant thing I can’t stand. But then it’s like, I’ll be at work, mad at him all day and then I’ll come home and he’ll be really sweet and funny and he’ll un-ironically put on Desperate Housewives and we’ll dance and joke and just fall even more in love. I mean, to be honest, we were actually really great together, which always helped with outweighing the good with the bad. Well, it helped or hurt… I could never tell.
Andrew and I met in college. I was a theater geek, and one day, he watched me fall down the stairs holding a shit ton of props a couple days before the show was supposed to go on. The director was pissed and made me stay after school every day to repair them. Andrew showed up every day at the same time to help out. At the wrap party, he asked if he could drive me home and we’ve been dating ever since. He’s a goofball, but he’s always been my goofball.
However, despite how it seems, this story *technically* isn’t about him. (Shocking, I know. It was for me too.)
Let’s dive back in, shall we?
Andrew’s phone told me his mom was calling so I answered it knowing that she would just keep calling and calling and then he’d get out of the shower and complain about his mom calling so much. After we caught up a little bit, I told her that Andrew would call back in ten minutes. I hung up the phone and watched it go to its Call Log screen. I looked away and froze, something catching my eye. I almost didn’t look back at the phone because I thought I was being crazy. But then that thought actually drove me crazy so I had to look because, it couldn’t be… I picked the phone back up and recognized a familiar name on his recently called list. Jackie from his work. My heart started pounding and I knew I was at a crossroads: I could either, A) snoop through his phone and find out the truth or B) I could talk to him about it. I considered asking him about it but then I remembered a conversation we had had when I first met her. I had gone with him to his office Christmas party about a year or two ago. She was a pretty girl and I noticed her touch his arm a few times when I wasn’t around so I asked him about their relationship later that night. His exact words were, “Oh, we barely talk.” And I believed him. I truly did. I had never had any reason to doubt Andrew, which was honestly my favorite thing about him. And now, here we are, seconds from living together forever, and I’m finding out he may have been taking advantage of my trust? Not cool (which is actually a total understatement).
After very little deliberation, I chose my crossroad and scrolled down to realize that they actually talked every single day. And there are times when HE would call HER. I started hyperventilating and then knew there was no going back. I opened up his text messages and sure enough, her name was there. And she had texted him last night before he and I had fallen asleep together. She had used a smiley face. I hopped off the bed and started pacing the room. There wasn’t anything TOO flirty in there. It all seemed like friendly conversation until I got to text messages from his birthday. I remembered it perfectly. I threw him a little get together with our friends and he left early. He NEVER leaves parties early. He told me some of the guys from work were going to a bar to celebrate and that he would come right back afterwards. Turns out, he left to go see her. She was having a party. She invited him. She used… a winky face. It took everything in me not to throw up. I started having a panic attack and ran out the front door. I had somehow grabbed my phone in the process and instinctively called my mom.
“Hey, your father and I are out at breakfast. Can I call you back?”
Just hearing her voice made things feel a little better. I took a breath and tried to tell her that that would be fine but instead I lost it and started crying. I tried holding the phone away from my face but she had heard it. She knew.
“Wait a second, Penny, are you okay?!” I heard my dad asking her something in the background before she shh’ed him.
I gave her the short version and she gasped. She actually gasped. “This is so surprising!!”
“You’re not helping at all.” I whined.
“Have you talked to him?” She asked in her therapist voice.
“No… I ran out of the house and called you…”
She laughed, “Okay well, you really need to go talk to him and then call me back. Take a deep breath. It can’t be what you’re thinking. Andrew’s not like that. Either way, keep in touch. I can be over in twenty minutes and we can figure this out.” I nodded to her like she could see me before I heard a door slam.
I turned to see Andrew walking out of the apartment in a towel and looking at me strangely, “Penny, are you crying?!”
I whispered to my mom that I loved her and hung up the phone. I took a deep breath and tried to pretend like I hadn’t seen him, running back into the apartment. I sat down on the couch and then realized I was too restless to sit so I got up and started pacing in the hallway.
He followed me back inside, hesitantly. “You’re scaring me. Did something happen?” He put his hands on my sides and tried to get me to stop moving. I looked into his eyes. This was it. Do I confront him? I really didn’t want to, to be honest. I really didn’t want to know the truth. Had I been sharing the love of my life with some other person? Did she clean up his dirty socks too? I started spiraling before taking a deep breath, trying to clear my mind. Unfortunately, her stupid name flashed in giant bold letters in my head.
“Jackie from work.” I whispered, wiping my face, my voice wavering.
He lowered his arms, “What about her?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. You told her goodnight before you told me goodnight last night. And you and I were in the same fucking bed.” I folded my arms and then unfolded them and then folded them again. I waited for that ‘it’s not what it looks like’ to come, but only because I really, really, really wanted to be wrong about this. I wanted this to be one of those times where I just really overreacted and all of this means nothing. But deep down I knew it would be really hard to believe him. There’s only one reason why a guy would lie to his girlfriend about hanging out with another girl and honestly, it’s not pretty.
This whole thing had just started and I already wanted it to be over. I hate arguing with Andrew. We’re both so stubborn and terrible with confrontation and we’re both always so dead-set on being right so our fights usually last forever. It sometimes takes days for me to try to forget everything that was said out of anger. It always sucks and it never solves anything.
He opened his mouth and then closed it, “You went through my phone.”
“That’s what you have to say for yourself?” I laughed. “Your mom called. And then I noticed that Jackie called you too. Every day for the last four goddamn months.” I hit his chest as hard as I could and stormed into the other room to try to catch my breath. He followed me and sat down next to me on the couch.
“It’s not what you think.” He sighed, rubbing his face, panic flashing in his eyes.
“What? You’re not hiding a girl from me? You haven’t been lying to me for months? You don’t leave me to go see her?” Tears formed behind my eyes; none of this felt real.
“Okay, those things are true but I’m not sleeping with her.” He turned to look me in the eyes.
“If you’re not sleeping with her, then why lie about it? Lying is for guilty people, Andrew. When we first started dating, we promised we’d never lie to each other. I’ve never lied to you about anything. What you’ve been doing is a pretty big fucking lie. You literally told me you barely speak to her… is that what ‘barely’ looks like?” I asked, pointing at his phone before standing up and taking a cigarette out of the pack he left on the kitchen counter.
“Penny, you quit…” He started as I lit the cigarette.
“I can’t look at you right now.” I started pacing and inhaling and trying to remember just why in the world I quit smoking in the first place. That dizzy euphoria was taking over and I desperately wanted it to take over. But then reality set in and my brain brought me back down. “You’re a liar, Andrew.” I whispered, my heart breaking. “I don’t think I can trust you anymore… Andrew,” His name felt like poison on my tongue and my brain felt like it was malfunctioning. “Andrew,” my voice cracked, trying to get his name to sound normal again. “Andrew, what… now?” I felt my face fall as the question drifted into the air and then disappeared. He opened his mouth to say something but I waved my hand at him and walked to, what has been, our bedroom and slammed the door, resting my head on the cold wood.
“Penny, please, open up…” I heard from the other side. He started banging on the door, sobbing loudly and begging for me to come out. He just kept talking about it and talking about it and I was really not handling any of this well. I managed to stop crying long enough to tell Andrew (through the door) that I really couldn’t hear any more about the whole thing and that he had to leave immediately. Thankfully, he obeyed and left me alone.
I cried, leaning my back up against the door, the light from the cigarette lighting up the room. I wanted to go back to sleep, to forget, except I couldn’t even close my eyes. I couldn’t get myself to focus on anything but her and him. I just kept picturing them together, in every sense of the word. I couldn’t help but wonder just how many other lies he’d told. I imagined him secretly texting her and inviting her over. I dry-heaved, disgusted at the thought of her in my bed. Oh my god, what if she had been in my bed?! I wanted to drop the rest of the cigarette on it and watch everything burn.
I took a deep breath and decided I would just talk myself through it: Suppose he had cheated on me. There’s no way he’d tell the truth now, right? He could just lie to me about that and I would be none the wiser. I picked up his pillow, holding it close before my stomach turned. He smells so good… I sobbed again before kicking his stupid Yoda slippers. He was supposed to be the good one. He was supposed to treat me right. I mean, he told me he would… So why this? What the hell did I do to deserve this? And what in the hell was I supposed to do now? I took a breath and then screamed into the pillow.
I called the store and told them, between sobs, that I wasn’t coming in today. Before anyone said anything else, I hung up. I didn’t care. I just sat there, wondering how this bullshit happened to me again.
Most of my relationships have not been good, let’s be real. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they obviously all started out going pretty well. It’s just that, I’ve always wound up being attracted to the wrong kind of guys. I think I should’ve figured this out when my first celebrity crushes were Charlie Sheen’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis in Scream. My main problem is reciprocation. It’s either, I’m too forthcoming with my heart and there’s no reciprocation on the other end or it’s vice versa. I’m always just blinded by the relationship until its way too late. Character flaws, am I right?
I mean, Andrew and I have never been *perfect.* The beginning of a relationship is always the best, right? The excitement, the flirting, the mystery. But I’ve always been kind of scared of Andrew. Not, like frightened of him but frightened at the idea of him. After we had been together for a year and had grown comfortable around each other, I started just getting terrible anxious thoughts about what would happen if I were to lose him. It was always that fear holding me back; fear of revealing too much about myself, fear of being vulnerable, fear of not being good enough… Andrew’s not like that though. He’s probably one of the most confident people I’ve ever met. We’re like completely different people and it scares me that that’s what led us to our downfall. Maybe that’s how we wound up here. Maybe I was too different and that’s why Jackie happened… My brain tried to focus on all the promises he’d made to me but now all I could wonder was just how many of them he had actually kept. My heart sank.
Andrew just sold his apartment two weeks ago and we’re in the process of moving me out of mine so he’s been living with me for the time being. It’s kind of scary though because I tend to have to remind myself that it’s not just for “the time being.” Even though we would be moving somewhere else, that would be it. Like, we were literally about to spend the rest of our lives living together. I’ve seen enough movies to know that living together either makes or breaks a relationship. In my heart I knew that the more I thought about him with her, the more I wouldn’t be able to go through with the whole thing. And then my heart ached because I had already rented my place to someone else and if I didn’t move in with him, I’d essentially be homeless. But that was in no way, shape or form a good reason to move in with someone. Right?
“But you do love him though?” My mom asked, sitting next to me on the couch. Obviously, I called my mom again. What else are you supposed to do when your life falls apart?
“Of course I love him. He’s my best friend.”
“Okay, and he promises he didn’t cheat on you?”
“Yeah but, I just don’t understand why he lied… He’s not supposed to be a liar. That’s one of the main reasons why I chose him…”
“Oh, you ‘chose’ him?” She laughed.
“Shut up,” I laughed, taking a deep breath and realizing that it had actually felt really good to laugh. “Did you ever go through anything like this with dad?”
Without any hesitation she responded, “Now you know if your dad had cheated on me, he wouldn’t be your dad.”
My heart sank in the oddest of ways, “You never had any doubts?”
“We’re not here to talk about me. What are you going to do about this whole thing? Because you guys are pretty much a day away from moving in together…”
“Like I don’t know that already? My entire life is in boxes right now.” I took a deep breath, trying not to be sick.
“He said he didn’t cheat. You and Andrew are so good together and honestly, I mean, no offense, but I don’t know if you have any other suitors. Would you really want to go back to being single? And oh jeez where would you live?”
I scoffed, “Is staying with someone because you don’t want to be alone any better?”
She opened her mouth to say something and then closed it, “Well, ya got me there.”
I laughed, “In all seriousness, what am I supposed to do here?”
“Do you believe him?”
She inhaled sharply and nodded, “That was a fast answer…. Okay so then, what do you want to do?” She asked even though I had been hoping she wouldn’t.
“Am I supposed to have an answer to that? The love of my life has lied to me for months about a girl. I’ve broken up with dudes for a lot less.”
My mom’s eyes opened wide, “You want to break up with him?”
I shrugged, “I actually don’t know…”
The next couple days went by in a blur. I wasn’t really talking to Andrew at this point. Every time he opened his mouth, I just assumed it was going to be a lie. It was a very confusing time for me, and for Andrew. He kept trying so hard to explain his side of things, to make it better, but I just told him I needed time. This made it very difficult to move into our new place… I imagined the day feeling a lot better than it did. Seeing our house together, it actually made me want to cry. And even though we had been in our new place for close to two days now, I was still waking up and having no idea where I was. It was incredibly unnerving. Andrew sleeps like a baby but I still think it’s too quiet.
I felt the sun but I couldn’t get out of bed. What was the point? I had a shitty job, a shitty liar of a boyfriend and to top it all off, I was now emotionally drained. Crying all day every day really takes its toll on you. In just a matter of a few days, I had lost all hope. I was spiraling and it wasn’t pretty.
I had such plans for my life, y’know? I wanted to study marine biology, I wanted to be successful… I wanted my life to be like a Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers movie, only… my life was completely lacking in that whimsy and elevated romanticism Nora was famous for, and I certainly didn’t have the budget for a Nancy-style life. Instead, now, I work at a fucking fish store. I wanted a loyal boyfriend who I could see myself settling down with someday. I got Andrew and the whole concept of settling down with him was actually starting to unsettle me because of that giant elephant in the room: Did he cheat? But I mean, does that really matter? He lied… that can’t be a good sign, can it? I felt restless and achy. All I could think about was leaving this place. But Andrew was in the living room and I honestly had no place to go, nowhere I felt I belonged at least. I sat up abruptly.
Maybe that’s exactly where I needed to be: Nowhere. My entire life had been about planning. I planned where I wanted to go to school, both high school and college, I planned where I wanted to live in the city, I planned exactly how long I’d date someone before moving in with them, I planned my career… And look at how all of that turned out for me. I have always considered myself a spontaneous person but right there in that moment, I couldn’t think of one spontaneous thing I had ever done. Maybe I needed to stop planning and just start doing? Or maybe I had gone completely batshit crazy and was losing my mind? Stay tuned!
I hopped out of bed and started packing. Packing for what? I really didn’t know. But whatever it was for was probably a hell of a lot better than this.
“Where are you going with those bags?” Andrew yelled, hopping up off the couch as I finally left my cave of sadness.
“I’m leaving.” I said as I flung open the door.
“You’re leaving me?! Because of this?!” He freaked out and ran to block me from the front door.
I dropped the bags and looked into his eyes which, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have done. I’ve always liked his eyes. I’ve always felt at home there. But was that a lie too? “I’m not leaving you per se… Just leaving.”
“For how long? Where are you going to go? Why are you doing this?! I didn’t cheat on you!! God, I really wish you would just believe me. This is insane!!!” He yelled, taking a deep breath, most likely as sick of having this conversation as I was.
“I kind of believe you,” I sniffled and looked down at the ground. “But I need a break. You promised me you’d never lie to me and this was a pretty big one. It might not seem like it to you, but it is to me. I’ve told you everything from the moment we started dating. Tell me, how many other things have you kept from me? Actually see no, I don’t think I could handle that. How do you expect me to just…” I sighed and rubbed my face, trying not to cry again. “I can’t deal with this right now. I don’t see you the same way anymore. I need to figure shit out.” I picked up my bags, pushed him aside and ran to my car, throwing the bags in the passenger seat.
“You’re awful quick to leave. Did you already have those bags packed, Penny?!” He screamed.
“Of course I did. We just fucking moved here! Or have you forgotten already?!” I screamed back.
“What about your job?”
“What about my job?! I work at a stupid fish store, Andrew. I could make more money sitting with a sign on the side of the road. I need something. I don’t know what it is but right now, I know this isn’t it. I thought it was you, I thought you were it for me but… If I stay here, I’ll just fight with you. And you’ll fight back and it’ll be a huge mess. And I don’t think I’ll ever recover from that…” He walked over to me slowly, looking defeated. My voice cracked, “This,” I pointed at him and then pointed back at me, “What you’ve done here, could potentially ruin us.” I looked up at him and he had tears in his eyes.
“Penny, I’m so fucking sorry. I knew you’d get mad that I was friends with her and I wanted to tell you so many times but…” I held up my hand to cut him off.
“Yeah, I know, I’ve heard that a million times… But what I don’t get is why lying was just so much easier? You didn’t think me worthy enough for the truth?” I sighed, trying to quiet the part of my brain that had begun completely questioning our entire relationship again.
“No, it’s just…” He looked away and spoke to the wind. “We just moved here, Pen… You really don’t want to stick it out and work on this? I need you.”
“Yeah, and I needed you.” I felt a tear escape and fall down my face. “Look, I love you. But I need a break. I know we just got this place together…” I took a deep breath and looked at our place. “I can’t… I don’t want to throw everything away now because of her… But, this is your fault. You fix it.”
“How do I fix it?!”
I gasped, “You did NOT just ask me that!”
He took a step back, probably worried I was going to hit him again. “Where are you going? For how long?” He whispered.
“I don’t know. But I’ll keep in touch.” I took a step forward to give him a kiss goodbye but then realized I didn’t really feel like kissing him. I sighed and got in the car. I slammed the door and put my forehead on the steering wheel. He leaned his head on the window and looked at me. “Don’t cry right now. Just stop it,” I said to myself. “Now is not the time for this.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him walk around to my side of the car. He was sobbing. My heart ached and I was starting to doubt whether or not I was actually going to be able to go through with this. He put his hand on the window and said my name. I picked my head up and saw him there with that sad puppy dog look and knew if I didn’t leave right now, in that second, then I never would. I took a deep breath, put my hand on his hand via the glass for a second and then drove away.
I had no plan, nowhere to go, nowhere that felt right… And after driving in circles for twenty minutes, I was starting to think I had made the wrong decision and the awful taste of regret crept up on me. I turned the corner, passing the $5 movie theater and remembered that me saying I “wanted to go nowhere” was inspired by a particular scene in the movie Pineapple Express. I laughed to myself and then well, then I knew exactly where it was time to go.
“You’re right, none of that is cool, bro.” Pete exhaled and handed me the joint.
“You have no idea.” I shook my head and inhaled.
“So, you’re going on a road trip?! That’s cool, at least. Can I come?” He laughed.
“Eh, I don’t know how Andrew would feel about me heading out on the road with another guy…”
He nodded and laughed, “You’re probably right. So where ya headed?”
I laughed, “I really don’t have a clue. Is that pathetic or what? Who runs away when they have nothing to run to?” I leaned back as my brain digested the possibilities. I was trying to convince myself to be excited but the only thing I was feeling was complete and utter panic.
“Well, what do you want?” He asked.
“That question is just so…” I got lost for a second, trying to remember which word I was searching for. “So broad.”
“No no, think about it, you’re running away so now you’ve just gotta figure out what you’re running to.”
I shrugged, “My future?”
“And what do you hope your future consists of?” He asked, surprisingly. I smoked the joint and let the smoke wash over me. We sat in silence for god knows how long.
“You know,” I exhaled the smoke. “When I was younger, my parents took me to the aquarium. Watching all those fish just swim around sort of changed me, you know? Like, they weren’t swimming to anything or from anything. They were just swimming. And it’s not like they didn’t have a purpose or they weren’t special or anything. They were just beautiful. My family wanted to keep going but I stayed and stared at that wall of fish. They literally had no care in the world. I told myself I would be like those fish. I wanted to be carefree. I wanted to just swim…”
“And what happened?”
“Life.” I sighed, passing him the joint. “You can’t really ‘just swim’ in life. You’re always swimming to something or away from something. You have to care… We’re not fish.”
“Hey, wait a minute, don’t you work in a fish store?” Pete exclaimed, suddenly putting the pieces together. I laughed and nodded. “Well, this might be crazy but, I actually know a guy who works at a zoo in Florida! Maybe he could get you a job.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. “Yeah, something called the Lowry Zoo or something, don’t quote me on that. Hang on, I don’t have his number anymore but I see his shit on Facebook all the time.”
“But, you two are friends?” I asked, skeptically, staring at the ceiling.
“Yeah, we grew up together. He used to be my neighbor. I’ll shoot him a message.” He handed me the joint and grabbed his phone. I wanted to be excited but really all I felt was doubt and remorse. I felt like I was waiting for that last ‘yes’ to go to Hollywood on American Idol. And then I thought about that time Ryan Seacrest accidentally tried to high-five a blind guy and laughed. I leaned back and thought about what it would be like to live in Florida. Of course, I had to get Andrew to agree to move there with me… I snapped back to reality. Andrew… Did I actually want him there? My heart sank. “Alright, he says he’ll see what he can do, but you have to get there. He can’t do anything with you here and the zoo there, you know?”
“Pete, are you serious?” He showed me the messages and nodded. Amidst all the bullshit that had been dropped on me in the last week, there was this. Life had just given me something to swim for. Er, rather, Pete my drug dealer had just given me something to swim for.
“Pete, this can’t be real life… You’re kidding, right?” I was still skeptical. Or at least, I was pretending to be.
“Why would I kid you about your future, dog? You’re a cool chick. I’m sure this will all work itself out. It’s not a sure thing though. He says you’d have to nail the interview but I know for a fact you can totally do that!” Pete got excited and high fived me before fist pumping to himself. “I’m so glad I remembered him,” he mumbled to himself, looking back at his phone. “Oh, this is kind of cool, he’s actually going on vacation with his fiancé so he won’t be back at the zoo for another two weeks. Looks like you’ve got just enough time!”
“Am I crazy? Should I do this?” I asked, sitting up, a little concerned as to how all of these things had just been falling into my lap lately.
“I mean, it doesn’t hurt to try. Plus… I mean, what else are you gonna do?” He asked, exhaling a few smoke rings. And then I heard the proverbial record scratch in my head.
Hold up. This couldn’t be happening. For the last seven years, I’ve lived the most predictable life. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy. It was just that kind of routine happy where you’re good with what you’ve been doing every day. Nothing ever really surprised me. Or rather, I had stopped doing surprising things. How in the world was I just realizing that I had gotten stuck? How did it take me this long to realize I needed something more?
“What do I do?” I whispered, the anxiety and spontaneity creeping up on me at the same time.
Pete sat up and looked me in the eyes, “Just swim, dude.”
As I was walking out, Pete’s neighborhood cat ran by me. I’ve known Pete for almost nine years now and that cat has been there every step of the way. Pete’s mom used to give me a dollar every time I reported a cat sighting. His mom liked to keep tabs on her but she was most definitely an outdoor cat. In most recent years, the cat had been wandering away a bit more. The kids in this neighborhood have really changed. They went from trying to follow the cat everywhere to trying to kick her down hills. It’s the most depressing thing... No one really does anything; I mean, the kids get yelled at, but when does yelling ever get you anywhere? Everyone thinks the cat will just one day leave but she never does. A group of kids ran by me, obviously chasing the cat sadistically. I followed them and noticed that they had cornered her. My blood started to boil as one of the kids picked up a rock and threw it at her. “That’s it,” I yelled to myself before screaming at them as I got closer. Each and every one of those damn kids sized me up, realized I wasn’t *technically* an adult and then shrugged, all at the same time. The cat was backed up against a fence, hissing. I screamed at them again, not even really yelling any words or anything, I just screamed. How can anyone be that cruel? Even the kids! Future axe-murderer pieces of shit.
After they called me a bunch of names, and were far enough away, I turned around, expecting to watch the cat run to safety but she just sat there. I bent down and noticed that she was shaking. “Are you okay, kitty?” I slowly put my hand out and she hissed at me. I put my hands up and swiftly stood upright. “You should get out of here, Cat. You don’t need this bullshit.” I took one last look at her and thought about how many times I saw her sleeping in Pete’s yard or about how many times I actually witnessed her leaping into the air to grab a bird with her mouth. I sent good vibes her way and hoped that change would come for her too. I took a deep breath and then walked back to my car. I opened the passenger’s side door to make sure I had everything when the cat jumped in the car. I took a step back and looked to see if anyone had been around to see what had happened. I was afraid to move, afraid of scaring her but it was suddenly very clear to me that she had no intentions on getting out of my car. I moved my bags to the backseat and she hopped up onto the front seat. I closed the door to see if she’d go nuts but she didn’t. She just sniffed the glove box. I walked up to Pete’s door and rang the doorbell.
He answered the door and looked confused, “Did you forget something?”
“Yeah, do you still have one of those cat carrier things from Jeff? RIP.” We both kissed our fingers and then held them up to the sky, in remembrance of his old cat, Jeff.
“I think so actually. I might’ve just seen it in the garage. How come?” He didn’t believe me when I told him, so we walked to my car and peaked in the window. The cat was asleep in the passenger seat. He nodded, “Yes, this is perfect. I like where your mind is headed.” He put his hand on my shoulder and saluted me, “You take good care of her, soldier.”
I saluted back, “Will do, weirdo.”
Before I knew it, I was in my car and driving to Florida with a cat that wasn’t mine. As I drove, I wondered what was going to happen. Pete told me I just had to go try and if it didn’t work out, I could always come back. I thought about Andrew and how surprised he was to see me leave. To be honest, I even surprised myself by doing this. I smiled for the first time in what felt like years and took a deep breath. I was doing it, I was just swimming. I wanted to just lean back and let the road take over. But in all honesty, I actually hate not knowing where I’m going, especially on the highways. Not being familiar with my surroundings really makes me anxious. I’ve never liked feeling lost. I had taken a couple road trips with friends in the past but never by myself. I wasn’t trying to run away from anything back then. But come to think of it, I wasn’t really running toward anything either.
When the cat woke up, I was worried she’d flip out in the cage. I mean, the door was open but I was worried I was going to have to pull over to let her out. She seemed a little confused, noticed the cage door was open, meowed and fell back asleep. I smiled to myself, thankful for the companionship and hoped that she felt safe with me.
An hour or so into my trip, I realized that I wasn’t really in a big hurry to get anywhere. The faster the trip, the faster I get back home. They always say, ‘home is where the heart is,’ but what if your heart hurts when you’re there? Is it still a home?
I found a Target and pulled into the parking lot. I turned around to see that the cat was still sleeping so I rolled the windows down slightly before running inside to grab cat food and a water bowl (and most likely fifteen other things that I don’t need but because it’s Target, I’m going to buy them anyway). When I got back to my car, I realized I wanted a little adventure before I got back on the road. I saw a sign in the distance that read ‘Coyot Ugly.’ “Like the movie?” I thought to myself, wondering if maybe the E light was out? But as I got closer, I realized that there was no E. I decided to stop in and see if there were girls dancing on the bar to LeAnn Rimes songs. I pulled into a spot and turned to the cat, who had been licking herself. “Now, I’m going to go in here for one drink. I won’t be long, I promise. I’m going to let you out and if you want to run away, that’s your choice and I wish you luck on your future endeavors.” I let her out of the cage, shook her paw and then opened the door for her. She hopped out, stretched and then laid down right next to the car, tucking her legs and arms in so she looked like a big loaf of bread. I unscrewed the top of my water bottle and poured some water into her bowl on the side of my car. She rubbed her cute little face on my ankle and I smiled, scratching her head for a few moments before she decided to shake me off and drink some water.
As I walked in to the bar, I was instantly struck with a strong cigarette smell, which is weird because in most places where I’m from, you can’t smoke inside. But then again, you’re probably not really supposed to kind of rip off someone else’s bar name (even if it is from a super dope movie).
An older woman came up and scratched her stomach with very long, very fake red nails, “Can I get you something?”
I sat down at the bar and joked, “Yeah, is New Jersey working tonight?”
She stared at me, clearly already done with my jokes. “I get it. It’s like the movie. Real clever.” She put her note pad in her apron and walked away. As I was wondering if she’d come back, a really handsome bartender walked up to me.
“Sorry about her. She’s always cranky. Can I get you something?” He smiled at me.
“A rum and coke please?”
“Coming right up.” He started making the drink in front of me.
“So, why is she cranky? Is it because of the movie?” I whispered, worried she’d come back.
“Honestly, she swears she came up with the name first. They have other bars and stuff that she could’ve joined or whatever you know, like the chain, but she ‘doesn’t like the way they run things.’ Whatever the hell that means.” He shrugged and slid my drink to me.
“She stuck with it though. Kind of.” I laughed and took a sip.
“Yeah, she gets drunk guys coming in here on the regular yelling about how there are no chicks on the bar. After almost ten years, you just get cranky.”
“Or you change the name.” I took another sip and looked around. Most of the bars I go to around my house were a lot nicer but definitely a lot louder, one of my biggest pet peeves. I hated going to a bar where you couldn’t hear the person next to you. I turned around to try to continue the conversation but I saw the bartender flirting with a hot girl at the end of the bar. I shrugged. It’s not like I could’ve done anything anyway. I am taken. My heart ached a bit. I didn’t break up with Andrew… right? Just then I felt a nudge on my right elbow. I looked down and realized it was coming from an elbow that was attached to an older man. An older, very drunk man. I smiled and took another sip of my drink.
“Uncle Barry.” He said, slurring.
“Excuse me?” I asked before realizing it probably would’ve just been easier to ignore him altogether.
“The name’s Uncle Barry.” He smiled and stuck his hand out.
I smiled and shook his hand, “Nice to meet you, Uncle Barry.” He looked into my eyes and wouldn’t let go of my hand. I struggled and then moved a seat over.
He slid into the seat right next to me and smiled again, “My name’s Uncle Barry.”
I went to say something when the handsome bartender came back, “Lay off, Uncle Barry.” He slid him a water and snapped his fingers toward the end of the bar. Uncle Barry got up and sat where he was told. I stared at the bartender, speechless.
“Local drunk. His name isn’t even Barry.” He shrugged.
When I walked out of the bar, I was greeted by the cat. She meowed and then ran back to the car, waiting for me to unlock it. For a feral cat, she was very (and oddly) comfortable with me. After I opened the passenger door for her, she hopped in and walked right into her cage.
I got in the car and sighed. So Coyot Ugly was kind of a bust; what a perfect metaphor for my life so far. In all the movies and books, everyone meets these colorful characters on the road. One of my goals for this trip is to find one of these mythical “colorful characters.” Thelma and Louise style (only, minus the murder)! I looked down at the cat and realized she was kind of like my partner in this. I’d have to come up with a name for her though…
Behind the wheel, I was filled with regret but there was a part of me that couldn’t help but wonder if maybe my life was looking better in the rearview. Leaving made me realize that it kind of felt like I was chained back home… chained to Andrew, chained to my regular 9-5 job, chained to the routine. Stepping on the gas sort of made me feel invincible. It was almost as if with every mile I drove, a part of me was slipping away. I took a deep breath for what felt like the first time in years. This all felt so good. But then, at the same time, it felt so unbelievably wrong. Driving away right now felt easy but thinking back to the look on Andrew’s face when I was leaving tore me apart. How could this be the right thing if it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done?