March 4th, 2016
I’m sorry for not writing sooner. This is the story that begins with me at work and ends with me in jail.
This weekend was fun, if not confusing in its own ways, but Monday came and I still found myself feeling very guilty about preferring to sleep in my car rather than stay with my dad and his boyfriend. I had tried everything I could think of to come to some resolution to how guilty I felt, drinking until things made more sense, confiding in a stray cat, fucking an absolutely bonkers chick who made it clear she did not care about my problems. Nothing worked.
For the record, yes, it is unusual to say “bonkers” unless you’ve met someone like Sam.
However, Charlie has a good head on her shoulders and I really figured, if nothing else, I’d be able to talk to her. I showed up to work early but she wasn’t in her office yet. The day went slowly, every task felt menial. I tried talking to some of my co-workers, but their English is poor and my Spanish is entirely absent. One of them does speak English a bit more so I tried getting his thoughts on the matter. Now, instead of calling me “Pepe” he calls me “Pussy”. I guess worrying about hurting your father’s feelings is not a tremendously masculine plight in his eyes.
I got to lunch early and went to Charlie’s office. Since she got me this job, I’ve always been able to swing by and talk to her about her wedding, about work, about whatever. She always makes time for me, is always gracious and kind. But she wasn’t in her office. In fact, this time I simply opened the door and went in, only to discover nothing was in her office but an empty desk and a chair that lay on its back, a few feet from where it normally sat.
I text her. I called. I DM’ed her on Twitter. No response.
I walked through the office trying to find out what happened. People pretended to not hear me. At first it seemed clear something terrible had happened. Halfway through the rest of my work shift I realized people always treat you that way when they routinely see you scraping the bottom of their trashcans clean.
On my way out to the car, I saw her car parked not too far away. Normally she parks much closer to the museum. The janitorial staff, we park way out by the Hall of Champions, a rundown gymnasium rotting in the foreground of the boarded-up Spreckels Theater. It would be a far more dismal location if not for where the parking lot drops off, above the 5 and 163 junction, looking at eye-level upon the downtown city skyline. Out there, on the edge of the parking lot, just where asphalt ends and the grass bends shortly before it’s drop into the golden shimmer of the setting sun, I saw Charlie.
“I’m sorry I’ve not been answering my phone,” she said as I approached. There was a plastic bag tucked under her folded legs, she strangled the neck of the wine bottle in front of her.
“I was afraid something happened. I thought maybe someone grabbed you to get to me… maybe.”
“Not everything is about you,” she said, patting the grass beside her. I took a seat, looking out at the buildings turning shades of blue and purple in the fading day, glowing orange at their tops the more the sun met their level. “Do you know how much time I put into this job?”
“What happened?” She passed the bottle to me but I waved it off.
“They said there’s not been enough funding to keep me on. Those fucking morons.”
“Aren’t you – Isn’t that your job, raising donations?”
“Yes. But donations have been drying up for eight years. Only in the last three years since I took this job has that been leveling out.”
“So, they just got rid of the one person who was getting them any donations?”
“So they fired me. Told me I’m not good enough at my job. They’ll bring in someone else, maybe pay them a little less. It’s not like you can just get rid of the position.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. Around the green glass, her hand was turning red and purple, until I had to place my hand on her wrist and take the bottle away for fear it was going to shatter in her hand.
“Don’t make me drink alone,” she said.
“I can’t. I’ve got that dumb DUI class tonight.”
She scoffed a bit, tried to hide it with a smile, then reached over and took the bottle back. “I worked a long time to get this job. I don’t know why I was stupid enough to even want it.”
Below the streets were still, filled with cars. Even the green-lights failed to move anyone forward as the intersections were so congested there was no longer room for anyone to move forward. “Did I ever tell you what I was doing here the day you met me, offered to get me this job?”
“Someone had kidnapped you. You had that gunshot wound.”
“Yeah, well, that was part of it. After escaping, I ran to a homeless encampment not far from here. I had to clean it up one day for community service which was the only way I knew it was there. I spent the day just hiding. There was a guy I’d seen there before, a complete and total mess. I mean, I try not to judge too much, but when you stand out at a homeless shelter… it just feels mean to get into too much detail. It wasn’t pretty. But a few weeks after I started working here, I saw him. He was working at a coffee shop, clean, together. I don’t know where he’s living but he made it out of that camp.”
“That was the worst story anyone has ever told me,” she said.
“Yeah, I think–”
“That was the worst timing to tell that story, too. If you were to call me right now, tell me my mother had been sexually assault in a Banana Republic before going into extreme detail about how it happened, it would not be worse than the story you told me just now.”
“I feel like that’s sort of an extreme response to what I said.”
“I’m in sort of an extreme mood,” she said, taking another long drink.
The blues and purples had spread everywhere now. The orange glow was no longer even a lining on the buildings. The sky warmed pink. The cars remained stuck in traffic.
“I can’t pay for this wedding,” she said.
“My parents can’t pay for it, either. His parents can’t pay for it. We’re going to have to take out a loan, anywhere from $25k to $30k just to pay for it. I just bought my house. I’ll have to use it as collateral. It shouldn’t be too hard to make the payments… once unemployment comes through.” Her cheeks were red, and there were dried streaks stretching from her eyes to her ears.
“Have a small wedding. Have no wedding. Do a civil ceremony, maybe go somewhere with your parents. You don’t have to spend that much. Weddings are ridiculous. You won’t even remember it. You’ll spend the whole day worrying about one thing or another, hoping everyone else is happy, and then you’ll be in debt.”
“Do you know what your problem is, Ricky?” I hate being called that, too. “You’re too damn practical.”
“It really is that easy.”
“It really isn’t,” she said. “You don’t know my family. I’m not saying you’re wrong or that they’re right. I’m just telling you the way it is. I don’t want a wedding. At all. They’re childish narcissism-machines. But if a woman in my family were to elope, everyone would take that as a personal offense. They’d write her off.”
The warm pink had cooled and the sky was falling a dark blue. “C’mon,” I said, helping her up, “it’s time to go.”
“Have the rest,” she said, pushing the bottle into my chest. “If I drink alone then I’m an alcoholic.” Down the steep slope of the hill, I saw two other bottles of the same brand, wedged beneath the brush. Standing up, I could see three corks in her plastic bag. “Don’t make me an alcoholic on top of everything else.”
I took the last drink, hardly even enough left to have called it a drink. But it made her happy and that was worth something. “Let me drive you home,” I said.