"A Jaded Life" (part 1)

Mission Impossible # 3 (Part 1)

This is a short story I wrote (a measly five pages then--the italicized flashback in part 2) when I was sixteen years old. I expanded it as part of a portfolio when applying to grad school about ten years later. In 2012, I sent it in and was published in Circumabulations Literary Magazine. As the magazine doesn't keep a public digital archive, here it is for your perusal. It will be released in two parts due to its length. 

A Jaded Life
            I stood waiting by the tracks, my bag and jacket in one hand; the other held a ticket that would not stay still. It wasn’t the temperature that gave me the chills; it was sixty-five degrees out with a warm gentle breeze. I had been early. I’m never early and now I watched the old clock across from the station click each minute, as if each were an eternity. In reality I had waited only twenty minutes, standing on my feet that had just gone numb. I glanced at the bench for the hundredth time debating whether to give my feet a rest or not, but yet again the old stains of spilt coffee, lollypops and disposed gum made me decide against it. I’d be sitting down in five minutes anyway for a couple hours. If only those five minutes would go faster.
An old lady hobbled up the steps onto the platform, giving me at last a companion. Her figure was hunched over the bulk of her little frame resting on her cane as she tapped along the pavement. Down on the track two little boys darted across the track, chasing one another, giggling. I remember when I was a boy, leaving pennies on the tracks waiting for the next train to flatten them. Then I heard it in the distance: a light rumble that told me my train would be here in just a minute. The boys ran out onto the tracks again, and for a moment I thought the train would barrel down upon them, but they ran back out of sight again.
“James! Kyle! Stop playing on the tracks!” a worried mother shouted from her backyard. The boys ran up the lawn towards the house, their mother shaking her head in annoyance. The large steel monster barreled down a moment later, screeching to a halt in front of the old woman and me. Being the gentleman I am, I let the lady on first and climbed on after.
I found a window seat near the rear of the last train car, slumped into the hard foam seat and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, trying to relax, but the musty, stuffy smell of too many people, packed too closely together, too many times over the years filled my nostrils. I suddenly had the sensation that the walls were closing in on me, and I felt the sting of thousands of eyes boring into me. Impulsively, my eyes shot open to find I was alone in the boxcar. I wouldn’t be for long. The train would make several stops before we hit Boston, and then I was switching onto another train for Manhattan, a place I hadn’t returned to in over five years. As the train pulled out of the station and gained velocity, dread and excitement battled over my mind, giving way finally to a numb uneasiness. I did not want to go back, yet Tony was getting married and I promised him I’d be there. I was not looking forward to seeing Rena, his fiancée; she was a royal pain in the ass, and Jade…I wondered how she was doing and at the same time I was scared to run into her. It’s better not to think about the past, so I put them out of my mind and focused on the scenery shooting by.
Before I knew it, we arrived in Boston. As I stepped off the train to await my connection, a strong feeling of déjà vu swept over me. I tried to shake it off as I entered the station, yet its presence was relentless. I had been at this station eight years ago, fresh out of high school, running away from a life my parents had planned out for me since the very moment I was born. Looking back, was my life better now? I couldn’t bear to weigh the possibilities, but at least I was free. Free from the tyrannical constrains of my strict, you-must-be-a-lawyer, alcoholic father, and a passive, vapid, pill-popping mother who gave into his every whim, especially when he used force. Not to mention dealing with the shadow of my overachieving older brother, who could do no wrong, even when he came out of the closet. I would have never made it through adolescence if it were not for my maternal grandfather. He was a lawyer also, but nothing like my father. He supported and unconditionally loved everyone and had great zest to live life to its fullest. He even supported my decision to go to art school instead of college followed by law school. I never made it to either. My grandfather died two months before my high school graduation and as I predicted my father would not allow me to pursue my dreams. I had to be a lawyer or I’d be disinherited. So I left Boston, left my family, left my mediocre fortune to be free and have never looked or gone back since. Eight years and two life times ago it seemed since I was under my father’s regime.
I had a strange feeling, like a child stealing sweets, that my father might catch me here and try to force me to come home. But I was an adult, and he couldn’t control me anymore; that’s if he could even recognize me now. I wondered from time to time about my brother and mom, yet the wonder never took me far enough to attempt any type of reconciliation. My brother was most likely rich and successful with a life-partner, living in the suburbs and my mother…well, probably still running the household for my father, doing whatever he thought fit.
After stale coffee and a bagel, I made my way toward the tracks and climbed on the next train. This train was older than the first. The musty and stuffy smell filled my lungs the moment I entered among the throng of strangers. I hurried to a window seat, as the people scrambled around to find their seats, like a swarm of bees around honey. A woman, the size I could swear was that of humpback whale plopped down in the seat next to me, her chubby arms pressing me against the chilled window. I closed my eyes tight, a futile attempt to stop any feelings of claustrophobia, and concentrated on sleep that never came. I kept my eyes closed to keep my anxiety of small, enclosed places to a minimum.
When the train grinded to a squeaking halt, I opened my eyes to see Grand Central Station, looking just as intimidating as the first time I arrived in the city. I groggily stepped off the train into the swarm of people pushing about in attempts to get on or off the train before the doors closed on them. I clutched my bag tightly and assured myself my wallet was deep inside the inner pocket of my jacket. You could never be too careful in a large mass of strangers. I had learnt my lesson my first day in the Big Apple when a young girl bumped into me. I didn’t notice till a half hour later that her little fingers worked their way in and out of my pocket in the blink of an eye, relieving me of my wallet containing the five hundred dollars of my hard earned life savings.
As I stepped out into the brilliant sunlight, my eyes took a moment to adjust to the harsh glare. The bustling of the crowd on the street was a familiar hum and as I walked down 42nd Street towards Times Square with a great feeling of comfort. I felt like I was home again, as if Manhattan was my mother wrapping her arms around me with a welcome no one else could match up to. I sighed letting go of every worry, every anxiety in each exhalation. It was going to be fine. This trip was going to be easy. It would be like old times, but only better. There’s something about going to the city, but not living there that makes the trip all worthwhile. Tony’s wedding was the first excuse I had to return to New York in the last five years. Five years I had been gone, and it seemed like a lifetime ago. I was not the person now that I had been then.
 After cutting through a seedy alley, I found myself thrown into the crowd of Times Square. As I glanced around I found it to be a picturesque scene of New York City at its best: the heart and soul of such a city. Some of the people in the sluggish crowd were yelling loudly into their cell phones as if being louder would create a better connection. One guy magically glided through the throng of tightly packed people on his skateboard, careful not to bump a single soul. Most people hurried on their way to work or lunch or wherever their lives were taking them, oblivious to everyone else around them. A couple of Asian tourists took photos of a CD shop, making me wonder what splendor the shop gave them that I was unaware of.  I smiled to myself, loving the impersonal rush of the people in the streets, bumping into you accidentally without excusing themselves for it was never needed. It was a given understanding of every citizen of the city that they would always mind their own business, leaving you alone to mind yours. I loved being able to have privacy in a place were millions walked the streets. I could feel no claustrophobia in New York, odd, as it seems. It was as if my condition didn't exist here.
Wasting no more time, I hopped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Greenwich Village, my old home and Tony’s present residence. I was let out on the Avenue of the Americas around West 10th Street. Instead of walking the twelve blocks directly to Tony’s place, I decided to wander around, to take in the changes of the places I used to call home.
I passed the old Oxford House, a prestigious name for a run down, crumbling apartment building, with its brick that dated back to the 1700’s now left in a crumbling chalky state. I gazed up to the fifth floor and found the window of the first apartment I ever had. I almost missed the cockroach-infested apartment, with the leaky ceiling and no hot water. I spent the first few months of my freedom shacked up with a bunch of other young starving kids in the one bedroom apartment until we were kicked out by the old landlady. I pondered ringing the bell and seeing if old Martha Gordon still ran the place, with her hair always in curlers, yet never curly. Surely she was dead by now. She had been in her eighties when I lived there. That poor old lady, some of us gave her hell. My hand went up, almost ringing the buzzer, but decided against it, allowing the memory of the place live on in my head just the way it had been before. I didn’t want to taint the old images of my past life that I held close to my heart.
Students crossed over the street, some stood gossiping and sipped coffee, and I noticed the majority of people around me were younger than me. The bars I went in when I was under age were all shut down and revamped into coffee houses as if the city didn’t already have enough of them. Didn’t these kids drink anymore? What other changes were there? I dreaded to know. I loved my New York, the way it was in my mind, not this commercialized coffee junkie, metro-sexual, rainbow wielding, new generation, with their cyber cafes, unisex bathrooms, and their willingness to accept everything no matter how fucked up it appears in order to appear liberated. What ever happened to just having your own opinion and keeping it to yourself? It was like these students, these kids, were all attempting to be different and anti-conforming with society that in a way they all conformed to one another. Their pierced lips, jet-black hair, punked out vintage clothing and the angst attitude pasted on their face for all to see, linked them together like an army of defiant youths.
I headed west realizing I was much too close to NYU for my comfort. The last thing I wanted to run into was some freedom rally for a child rapist on death row or a peace rally for invading some territory we shouldn’t be in anyway or whatever cause was the fashion of the day. I hated to see people pushing views onto one another. I want to think what I want to and be left alone. Perhaps that is why college never attracted me, and Law made me hate the world.
I sighed off these negative vibes and went west back into the heart of Greenwich Village, to go by my last apartment, one I shared with Jade. I turned onto Horatio Street looking for the little one bedroom shit-hole we called home for two years. To my surprise the outside was renovated, with carefully grown ivy up the first few floors and the balconies were painted a vibrant white. I remember them as a rusted, chipped color that once had been black when I lived there. The brick walls were painted white too giving it a classy look in the middle of an outdated neighborhood. There was even a doorman now. I wondered how elegant the inside was now and how much more expensive the rent became. I missed that damn building in its original state. I missed the old life, not knowing how I was going to pay the bills or if I had enough money to eat. That changed when Jade moved in. I didn’t care if I missed meals, but I felt like shit when I didn’t have money for her. It was a responsibility I was never ready for, especially then.
I crept around back to see up to our window on the second floor. The back of the building was not painted, nor the fire escapes. I peered up at our old window and I could imagine myself crawling out of the window to have a smoke. I pretended to quit when Jade insisted on it and I’d slip out when she wasn’t looking, smoke one, and toss it in the dumpster below. If she ever knew, she didn’t let on. Jade, I wondered how she was doing. I’d have to ask Tony later.
I peered down at my watch and realized it was half past noon and Tony expected me half an hour ago. I had let myself get carried away with the past. I couldn’t dwell on that or I’d get myself down. I couldn’t let the Millenials piss me off either. I had to remind myself I was there not long ago.
I went out onto the street and continued to backtrack to Tony’s, the one word named pub after its owner and my best friend. Tony’s place was exactly the same and although he was doing well, he didn’t upgrade a thing, which pleased me greatly. I had finally arrived at my destination.
When I entered, I got all smiles from Tony and glares from Rena; nothing had changed. There was a honey blond sitting at the bar, her back towards me and I stopped. Could it be her? Was Jade here? I felt as if a large chicken bone was lodged in my throat and stammered some ridiculous answer to whatever Tony was asking me. I could barely breathe and concentrated on what to say to her after all these years. How would she react to seeing me? How was I to behave? She turned around and I quickly realized my folly; it wasn’t Jade at all. Rena introduced me with bitterness dripping off her voice and I finally gained my own back to talk to her sister.
After twenty minutes of chatting it up with Rena’s sister, an interesting yet naive girl, it began to get busy in the little bar and I soon noticed they were short handed. I looked at my watch and noticed happy hour had begun. Men and women in their business suits sat at tables strategizing on deals to be made, artists and philosophizing students were snug in the corner protesting government decisions, while a few construction workers sat next to me at the bar whining about aching joints. That was the great thing about Tony’s place; it was a melting pot for everyone to enjoy.

Without being asked I went behind the bar, took up the pile of drink slips the lone cocktail waitress left for Tony, laid each one out on the counter and studied them attempting to remember combinations of cocktails I hadn’t thought of in years. I looked at the arrangement of the liquor bottles and began to mix the drinks before Tony realized what I was up to. To my surprise the knowledge easily returned to me, the bottles became comfortable in my hands, and I was moving at a decent pace.

“It’s been a long time; you know what you’re doing?” Tony challenged me with a smile, knowing well I could handle the high volume business.
“Like riding a bike,” I told him and resumed my work. Three hours later I abandoned the bar, tired, sweaty and stinking of liquor: just like the good old days. I missed the work, the fatigue of working for every buck, as opposed to my new job, selling an image. I was always selling myself more than the useful plastic products that they used in hospitals and factories. What they used them for? I never knew, but I did what I was told: sell. I missed the old life, living every moment not knowing if I should go out for a few beers or eat lunch the next day. Not that I had a lot of money now, but I had more than enough for just myself. I had a townhouse in the suburbs, a bottom-line sports car, and a chocolate lab named Lucky. This was my life: dull, lonely, and predictable.
“Nice job bartender, would you like a cut?” Tony asked me handing me a wad of cash. I refused gallantly and told him I’d take the pay in a few free drinks, which knowing Tony, he would have given me anyway.
“You remember how great we had it then? When I worked here.” I asked him reminiscing in lost times that I knew I’d never live again. I could almost see the dirt uplifted off the walls, as it was five years prior, the wooden floor slick and unmarred, and the sour smell of spilt beer gone.
“What slaving around for measly pennies?” Tony asked me in disbelief.
“No the days where women flocked to the nearest bartender to tempt us, cajole us for free drinks. The endless nights of partying…” I began, not needing to finish. I saw Tony drift off into the past along with me.
“Where one night turned into another without us even knowing. Remember Teresa?” Tony laughed. “She was a little hottie.”
“No, the best one was Babette. You tried and tried to get in her pants to no avail. She never gave you the time of day. A devout Roman Catholic if I remember correctly.” I sighed. “Those were the days.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to go on in life. You’re lucky you’re not in the same rut as me. I’ve been stuck in this bar for almost a decade now. I wonder what it’d be like if I made other choices, you know?” Tony sighed looking around his little run down pub.
“You love this place, don’t you? Sure it needs a face-lift after ten years of wear-and-tear, but it feels like…home. It feels like home,” I said absorbing the bar’s every detail and engraining it into my memory. It could be a while for another return to the city, although I desperately wanted an excuse to stay. I could think of none. Tony would be married tomorrow and I’d take one of the last trains back to Boston. Back to the repetition and the tedium of everyday life. It dawned on me then how painful it was to be an adult.
Rena entered the bar from the kitchen and gave me a stare that told me to get out from behind her bar. Listening to her demeaning eyes, I sat myself on the other side of the bar and sipped on my beer ignoring her stare, her hating me for doing anything good. Rena had always despised me, relished in all the times I messed up in the past, and was bitter when I ever did well. It was the way it always was, but deep down I knew I finally did deserve her hate. I tried to ignore her putrid stare and was finally able when a beautiful honey blond walked in. She was gorgeous, with bright blue eyes and legs up to her chin and all the right curves. My heart skipped a beat. It was so reminiscent of a shred of memory that tried to creep forth into my mind. Jade walked in this door seven years ago when I was sitting at his bar perhaps even in the same stool, the night I met her. I could see her standing there, looking for her friends who were running late; disappointed at arriving alone, she sat down next to me at the bar. But this woman wasn’t Jade and she immediately found her friends and sat down with them. It was as if my mind had manifested the image of Jade for the second time today. It was as if she was haunting me. I turned to Tony and asked laughing, “She just reminded me of Jade, how is she these days?”
It took all the strength in me to ask and it felt like years till he responded. Tony turned to look at Rena, who opened her eyes wide and crossed her arms angrily before protesting by walking into the back. He turned and looked at me almost with pity and then gave me a fake smile. “Past is the past buddy. Let sleeping dogs lie.” Tony replied and walked into the back, leaving me to ponder over the past.
I heard a mumble of whispers, till Rena’s voice reached a high enough volume for me to hear. I thought of walking away from the bar to give them privacy, but on hearing my name I stayed glued to my seat by curiosity.
“I’m surprised he came. What you’re not? Any time he runs into any kind of trouble, anything that isn’t convenient for him, he runs away. Why? Because that’s what spoilt little rich kids do. He’s just a kid Tony, a big kid who never grew up, running away from everything that doesn’t easily go his way. He’ll never live up to his responsibilities. A first class, spoilt, Peter fucking Pan.” Rena said venomously, angry and bitter still about my treatment of Jade. I didn’t care what she said. It was probably right, because I treated Jade badly and deserved every mean thing Rena could possibly say.
“Keep your voice down and stop. He’s grown up. He’s changed since then. Give him a chance,” Tony defended, but his argumentative skills could not match Rena’s. I felt like a child whose parents were fighting, stuck in the middle and feeling at fault.
“Are you going to tell him?” Rena asked in reference to something I didn’t know about. There was a long pause and a sigh from Tony till Rena answered for him, “No? What, are you going to protect him forever? Tony…” She had trailed off awaiting Tony to save himself. He replied in a tone so hushed I couldn’t comprehend the little bits of conversation. I strained to hear, but a group of loud meatheads walked in the door grunting and shouting to show how tough they were.
Tony returned a moment later rolling his eyes at his bride-to-be, with a firm smile on his face. He seemed happy, yet somber, and I was unable to read what had transpired between him and his fiancée. Tell me what? I wondered, but the curiosity slipped away when three beautiful women entered the bar taking our attention.
“Sorry, you know how she gets,” Tony apologized, letting the subject drop as quickly as it began. “So you got any hunnies? You used to keep a few stringing along back in the day,” Tony teased, not knowing he was brushing upon a subject I had no desire to talk about.
“None. Not one. I think a person gets a limited quantity of bitches for life and I must have used them up early.” I drank a large sip of beer to not have to go into depth. But count on Tony to keep pressing a subject, unaware of how uncomfortable someone might be. He was an unobservant man, with only his curiosity to fulfill. But how could I blame him for pressing me? I always kept my feelings and thoughts to myself.
“If you’re lonely come on back here man. There’s lots of fine trim around here. All kinds of girls of all sizes and shapes. It kills me sometimes to remain faithful with all these fine specimens around.” Tony said staring at a voluptuous redhead, who was leaning over the pool table showing us more of herself than she had probably intended. She turned to look at us, catching us “in medias res” of our ogling, and gave us a smug smile telling me she did intend to show off.
“I’m not lonely,” I said the word as if it were a poison. I was lying to defend myself. I was lonely as hell and empty inside, as if I was hardly living. An empty can with the remnants of the former occupant, the lingering stale smell of a former human being. “I just feel so old. I used to get every girl I set my radar on, and now? I don’t even feel like I can approach a woman. I’m twenty-seven. I should still be in my prime,” I complained. It was as much as I could manage to say. It felt weird to talk about my feelings with a guy, even if it was Tony. How could I tell him I felt like an incomplete zombie who longed for what he had given up years ago: a woman who would spend her life by his side. I didn’t say another word for fear of sounding as pathetic and weak as I felt. Tony didn’t press any further, but poured us two large shots and raised his up in the air.
“To the good ole days,” Tony said with melancholy in his voice. I raised my shooter and downed it quickly without a grimace. The whiskey burned my insides, warming me up. I could almost swear it burnt the loneliness out of my heart too, unless I was mistaken and it was the beginnings of indigestion.

An hour later I found myself sitting on the hotel bed staring at the wall, the warm whiskey long gone from my bloodstream. I didn’t feel like moving, let alone going out. I wanted to lie down on the stiff starched sheets and never get up. I had no idea how long I sat there, just staring off, not thinking about anything. I lay down and switched my gaze to the blank ceiling made of thousands of little bumps, as a memory reached forward from my subconscious. I closed my eyes allowing it to creep forward, curious of how it would make me feel…



Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday

1 comment:

  1. Part 2 will be released same time on Wednesday.

    ReplyDelete

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