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One Man's Trash and Ramona
Maybe this is strange, but I’ve found that you can tell what a person loves based on what they throw away.
It didn’t take me long to figure this out. I’ve been sitting here for only a couple days and it came within a few hours of staying at my post. For example, I wouldn’t know that the girl with the red hair loved fruit gum, if it weren't for the assortment of fruit scented gum wrappers that she tossed into my basket. I certainly would have no idea that the girl with the mohawk loved playing the clarinet if she hadn’t dropped her broken reeds into my hollow plastic self. I wouldn’t know that the man in the orange vest loved to draw if I hadn’t felt the crumpled up drawings bounce off my rim and onto the ground.
The man in the orange vest.... his name was Donald, according to the receipts he often threw away. The receipts were for silly things, like a package of black licorice from the cafeteria or a binder from the book store. He spent a lot of time every Tuesday and Thursday sitting on the padded but not very comfortable benches across from my spot next to the vending machines, waiting for, I assume, his next class to begin in a nearby room.
His next class was probably an English class, because he spent much of his time sitting on the bench highlighting in an orange binder labeled “English”. Sometimes a girl sat next to him and they chatted, but then she left and he’d be highlighting again. I watched him highlight sometimes, but mostly I liked to watch him draw. He finished at least one picture everyday, and threw out at least seven. And they were good, the ones that he threw out, I liked to look at the crumpled drawings as they slowly unfolded and opened back up. He drew people. They were all different people, and they were sitting and checking their phones or reading geometry textbooks or sleeping with their heads leaning back against the wall. I liked Donald because he watched people, and I watched people. The only difference was that he drew them, but I just watched.
It was a Tuesday when I noticed a change in the drawings. The people were getting older. They had wrinkles in the corners of their eyes and streaks of white in their hair. They did not check their phones or read or sleep with their heads against the wall, they just sat upright, with their eyes looking distant. The pictures were ripped right in half sometimes too, as if Donald had absolutely despised what he had drawn. But the pictures were still very good. I looked at them for a long time, studying the aging faces on the crumpled paper until they were covered by empty Coke bottles and discarded homework assignments. I looked at them until Donald got up and left for his class. I watched him leave. Usually he never smiled, but always looked like he was about to. Except today, today there was not the slightest hint on his face that he would ever smile. Or ever had smiled.
The next Thursday the pictures weren’t good anymore. They were cartoonish, the features on the people enlarged and grotesque. They had big eyes or small eyes or oddly shaped noses or too much facial hair. I began to wonder if these portraits were ones that Donald had drawn, how could his incredibly detailed and beautiful pictures become this? But they were still on the same small unlined pages ripped from his sketchbook. One in particular stood out to me, it was a drawing of a woman with a nose that took up much of her face, ears like an elephant, and tiny eyes. It was titled, “Ramona”.
This Ramona appeared in many of his drawings, until it seemed he was drawing only her. Sometimes she was screaming at an innocent old man in a walker, other times she was hunched over a bubbling cauldron, other times she was pounding on her chest like King Kong. She never looked pleasant at all, and Donald never took any pictures of her home. He threw them all away.
I decided he must have hated Ramona. Why else would he draw so many awful pictures of her? In that moment I learned something new. You can also learn what people hate based on what they throw away.
A few weeks came and went. Donald stopped highlighting, and just drew pictures day after day, and they were getting more and more outlandish. Ramona grew warts and an extra nose and lost several teeth. Her hair was orange and her eyes were red. She ate children and boiled puppies. The artistic skill and attention to detail was gone, replaced with alien caricatures of either a figment of his imagination or an exaggerated, but still very real, person.
One Thursday Donald sat down on the bench, and I immediately wished he would leave. I had enough of his disgusting drawings, I was sick of letting him take out his family problems (what else could they be but family problems?) on me, the poor soul who had done nothing but mind my own business and sit beside the vending machine. I didn’t care about Donald and I certainly didn’t care about Ramona. I wished I could move to a Mcdonalds to take nothing more than people’s soggy sandwich buns or used napkins. Or a woman’s restroom next to the sink, where I knew for a fact no one threw anything but wet paper towels. I’d even settle for being next to a sick child’s bed, waiting for a mixture of stomach acid and last night’s undercooked chicken to pour into my basket. I didn’t care anymore. There was nothing worse than what I was going through, being smothered in another’s self pity.
But, much to my relief, Donald didn’t draw that day. He just highlighted in his English binder and then got up and left. Maybe he had a test that day. Whatever the case, I was relieved. I couldn’t sigh, but I felt lighter, despite the fact that I was filled to the brim with apple cores and candy wrappers and crumpled paper.
Then She came. She walked to the place Donald had just been and sat right down. And stared. Her eyes were red and her hair was orange. She was missing teeth, had big elephant ears, an oversized nose, and small eyes. She was a terrifying presence in the room, and yet no one else seemed to notice Her. Not the older man who had just walked by, or the girl on the other edge of the bench, or the woman getting a 3 Musketeers bar from the vending machine. I was the only one who was scared, it seemed.
It was certainly Ramona.
I waited while she watched me. I had been emptied of Donald’s drawings long ago, but I could still feel her picking through me, looking at each and every drawing. She didn’t seem scared or even offended by what she saw, she just kept leafing through each and every awful picture of herself. With every picture she became more hideous, her eyes growing smaller and beadier, her ears bigger, and her nose grew more warts.
Donald, I though, I need Donald.
She had the pictures laid out on the floor in a gruesome timeline of all that had gone awry in Donald’s life. I saw it happen, the greying but still realistic pictures as he sensed something was wrong, then the more and more fantasy-like portraits as that something wrong became more wrong. Ramona wasn’t real, she was everything not real, everything that plagued Donald and everything that kept him awake at night and everything that made him clench his teeth and bite his nails. She then picked up each drawing one by one, and gently placed them atop my mound of garbage.
And he was there, rounding the corner, back straight and head held high. He stopped short when he saw Ramona. His eyes became green and wide and he started rubbing his palms with his fingers.
“What are you doing here.” It was not a question, not even a statement. It was a warning.
“I’ve always been here. And in your car and your house and everything that everyone says about you when you can’t hear them,” Ramona replied. Her voice made me think of the sound ant’s feet make when a hundred at once are disturbed and start running.
“What does that even mean?”
“Don’t act like you’ve never noticed me before. I’ve seen the pictures.” Harshly.
“But you’re not real. I made you up.”
“Of course I’m not. That’s ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as thinking that trash can over there can hear us.” She looked at me.
“You’re not real.”
“That’s not the point. I’m real until you believe I’m not.”
“Well you’re not. I say you’re not.” At that Ramona smirked. She looked at me again, her eyes saying, as if it’s that easy.
“Go away,” Donald snapped. He closed his eyes and rocked back and forth, “Go away go away go away.” I had never seen him like this, he was always so confident and almost powerful. He opened his eyes. Ramona was still there.
She raised her eyebrows, “Well...”
Donald opened his sketchbook. He walked two steps towards myself, then started ripping out pages and feeding them to me. These were the pictures he had kept, the ones that had met his high expectations. They were fantastic, and as he threw them away I saw what I hadn’t noticed before: the light in his subject’s eyes. They looked truly happen despite the fact that they were doing nothing more than casually reading or staring at the ceiling. This was what was missing from his pictures of Ramona, not artistic detail or proper shading. Why didn’t he want them? He just kept ripping and ripping and ripping the pages out of the grey book. When they were all gone, he looked at Ramona.
“You win,” he said.
“Yes, and I’ll see you later,” she hissed.
And She was gone, so suddenly that I wondered if I had looked the other direction and missed Her walking away. As quickly as Ramona had left, Donald was back in his spot on the bench, drawing. As if he had never left. Had he left? He made a few more strokes with his pencil, shook his head, then squished it into a ball and tossed it towards me basketball-style. It landed perfectly inside, but I didn’t even look at what was on it.