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There was no way this would end well. This work would no doubt best him before he could make something, anything, like progress. Why had he put so much off for so long? He couldn’t say. A friend might tell you that Andy had a habit of putting himself into situations like this. For all his encyclopedic knowledge - knowledge he was always, always, poised to make plain he was unapologetically self-destructive - particularly with regard to deadlines.
He wondered aloud to himself, for it was almost midnight and no one was awake in the house, if maybe he had intended to do this all along. After all, he loved to complain. In fact, he trudged through each insufferable day bearing the expression of someone afflicted with lingering indigestion. Nothing ever seemed good or right to him; he was less a glass half empty kind of person than a glass half full of excrement person. He was smart, but not smart enough; thought he had friends, but could never be sure; and managed to maintain a relationship, but lived in constant fear of its collapse. People often wondered - as did he - if this lugubriousness was just for show. Part of some entirely imagined struggle toward great things. Often he’d act out an interview in his head; James Lipton or Anderson Cooper would tearfully urge him to open up about his lifelong bout with depression and his hellish childhood in Nuggville, Indiana.
It always floored everyone Andy knew how easily he seemed to create problems out of the air. No matter how insignificant a bump in the road might be, he never failed to step aside and lament his rotten luck. Most days he felt like an empty tube of toothpaste, rolled up and pressed until the last drops of joy had oozed out of him.
In truth his life wasn’t one iota the trial he’d be so quick to assure you it was. No one could ever understand why he seemed so doggedly committed to being unhappy. It was accepted, grudgingly, among his small circle of friends that Andy just wasn’t the happiest of guys. They had long since given up on any attempts to yank his head from the sand he had so willingly buried it in.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he whispered to himself as his hand, long-past cramped crept laboriously along another page. He’d had weeks to do these summaries but here he was, hunched over his textbook, tired beyond description, and even more miserable than usual. Harried as he was - and that was more than a bit harried - he still found ways to put off working. About every five minutes he’d break to exhale deeply with exasperation; as though reminding himself just how much he'd rather be doing anything else.
He wished mightily that there was a desk in his room. Without one he had to sit on his bed to work. Aside from exacerbating his already considerable back problems this arrangement provided him a constant nagging reminder that he could be asleep. Keeping a computer by his side was also an entirely ill advised decision; the Internet seemed to be begging for his attention, its siren song distracting him nearly every minute. On nights like these, when a great number of his peers were kept awake by unrelenting piles of homework, the Internet became a far more interesting place. A sort of camaraderie existed among these weary brothers and sisters in arms. It was on the internet’s social hubs that they gathered to bond. Long into the night they’d make conversation by way of their common apathy and agony. Andy was constantly compelled to log in. Each time he searched intently for new friends with whom he could act morose and tired the next day. This list of names often swelled to dozens by midnight.
While he was drifting off into pleasant thoughts of groaning for effect during history class and yawning belligerently throughout physics he heard his phone rattle against the books on his bedside table.
“Hey,” it was Paige, his girlfriend of four months; she herself was engrossed in similar school work not five minutes down the street.
"Hey, what's up," he replied, though he obviously knew the answer.
"Summaries, my absolute favorite", she replied. She, like him, chose sarcasm over sincerity whenever possible. In this way they were a perfect fit, in others though they weren't nearly so compatible. In fact, at times it seemed a cruel joke to call them a couple. Andy wasn't quite sure how he felt about her. During the course of the day his feelings might (and often did) go from adoration to complete contempt. He felt about her like he felt about most things; he never had the confidence to go one way or the other. It was never as simple as love or hate, instead everything was "I guess" or "well kind of".
"Same", he took care to sound exasperated
"Are you still hand-writing all of them?” she asked. Knowing Andy’s absolute aversion to change she had little reason to expect he wasn’t.
"Of course." He answered, a bit taken aback by her disdain for is method.
"Why would you put yourself through that?"
"I don't know I just like it better I guess," he gave her what he felt would be the most palatable answer. In truth he knew exactly why he chose to take his notes in the slowest and most labor intensive manner possible, it made for a better story. He felt his complaints would have a validity that no one else's would, though he'd probably have to pretend his computer was broken.
“Everything just has to be difficult with you,” she replied, sourly. Immediately Andy’s mind went to work trying to decipher that acerbic retort. If a comment could possibly be read into Andy never failed to do so. Even the most benign of remarks tended to engender total panic.
“I guess so,” he offered up all he could. Dejected, he made no attempt to defend himself against her verbal barrage.
“I’m kidding, honestly,” though confronted with it every day she still failed to comprehend the depths of his anxiety and paranoia. She was honestly kidding and by trying to make a joke she’d given Andy the shred of evidence he needed to believe they were doomed.
“Alright,” he said meekly. Clearly he was just trying to get out of the conversation while he still could.
“You don’t believe me… I just can’t win with you can I?” Her utter befuddlement was outweighed only by her frustration. They’d been dating for four months, had been acquainted for just over six, naturally she thought she had him pegged. It seemed to Andy that six months had been enough time for her to grow into feeling as though she knew him better than he knew himself.
“I believe you, I mean it, sorry….really, sorry,” as always, he fell all over himself apologizing, his words leaving him in one sustained sound. He wished he wasn’t so obvious, wished he could have just done a better job at pretending to believe her.
Small verbal scuffles like this one would’ve probably appeared completely ludicrous and altogether inconsequential to anyone in the world, save of course for Andy. These miniscule arguments were what gave birth to Andy’s fears for the future of his relationship with Paige. In his mind each one of them, and there were more than a few nearly every day, contributed to the erosion of everything they’d tried to build. Each crack, even the one’s she couldn’t feel or see, were, to him, irreparable wear on one of the few things he felt he couldn’t live without.
“Calm down, it’s not a big deal,” she attempted to console him. That had never been enough to convince him before, tonight would be no different.
“I really can’t talk, I’d love to, but these summaries have to get done some time tonight.”
“Text me?” she asked.
“Of course, see ya” As soon as the call ended he sent her a text, he started the conversation the same way he had on the phone. “Hey” worked a lot better than “When we have conversations like that I have to hyperventilate” so he stuck with it. Letting feelings like this gather dust only ever led to more pain for the both of them, but it required less effort than did letting them out. Andy knew he was only going to cause more trouble but maybe that was the way he wanted it.
Not far away Paige’s mind was kept from her still considerable workload by similar thoughts. She constantly told Andy and herself that conversations like the one they’d just had were of no consequence to her, recently she’d begun to realize what a lie that was. It worried her how quickly Andy’s mind switched into panic mode; she constantly grappled with the question of whether or not she should blame herself. Thus far she had been able to cast aside most of her worries by assuring herself that it was just being high school seniors that caused them so much stress. Each disagreement made it more and more apparent to her that perhaps the answer wasn’t that simple.
In reality they were both guilty of assuming their problems were unique. In Andy’s mind Paige could never understand the stress he faced every day, her insistence that she knew best irked him to no end. Paige felt that she suffered on an entirely different plane than Andy and completely resented any complaints from him. Both of them preferred to let their feelings burn them from the inside out over talking about them. This more than anything had led them to where they now found themselves.
Hours of a cursory attempt at working had brought Andy nowhere. Innumerable distractions beckoned his mind and body everywhere except where he needed them to be. Texting Paige hadn’t brought him any closer to feeling at ease in their station. Their conversation had consisted of little but vague pleasantries and - of course - complaints. Andy was almost thankful now for the Sisyphean task he was likely to be busy with all night. So long as he and Paige were both occupied with work they hated they’d never have a shortage of things to say. More importantly the things they did say were unlikely to veer into any territory that would make him more nauseous with grief than he already was.
It was two in the morning, he could sleep or he could finish the summaries, at this point he accepted the awful truth that to do both would be impossible. Less because he valued his history grade than because the prospect of an all nighter intrigued him he resolved to put aside the idea of sleep.
From the internet musings of his classmates Andy was able to surmise that frustration like his was the common sentiment. He wasted far more time than he could afford reveling in this grumbling. To his horror, he’d reached a lull in his conversation with Paige. To someone else this pause might have been completely normal, to Andy though it was grounds for panic. People didn’t just go fifteen minutes without answering; he had to have done something wrong.
He could practically hear his mind whirring as he ruminated over the pause. Everything he had ever said and done seemed like it could have caused this. He was completely blind to the fact that little but this predisposition to panic ever put strain on his relationship with Paige. Nothing riled her more than the fact that Andy lived half his life wringing his hands and worrying about the abundance of issues each day might present. It was odd predicament he found himself in; he was utterly terrified of what a conversation with Paige might entail, but sitting in silence was just as unnerving.
Suddenly, when it seemed as though his self-piteous stupor would last all night, his phone started to vibrate. Another call from Paige; he wasn’t sure he if should feel relieved or brace for impact.
“Hey,” he began, trying to sound as though he hadn’t spent the last twenty minutes curled in a ball.
“Hey, how are the summaries going?”
“Better than usual I guess, I’ve only cried for two hours this time,” he joked. Humor was always a nice wall to hide behind. He feared what would happen if he gave Paige even the slightest indication that the conversation of a few hours ago still weighed so heavily on his thoughts.
“Well that’s good to hear, I’m really about to give up on them. I’ve gotten way too into Heart of Darkness to read about the economic implications of the phonograph. Honestly, I can’t believe I was just gonna read a summary, it’s amazing.”
“Well you don’t know what you’re missing, I didn’t think it was possible but this chapter set is even better than the last one.” He was pleased with the way this exchange was going. When his sarcasm and humor lit the way it was much harder to fall into the kind of traps he had earlier.
“Really? Maybe I’ll have to reconsider. There’s a short little blurb about Conrad in the front of the book and I literally laughed out loud when I read it, he was you.” She flipped back to the front of her book and read aloud, “Conrad was a painfully shy and awkward man for whom writing was a trial. Luckily he was blessed with a wealth of friends who appreciated his unique genius.” She hoped that Andy wouldn’t resent the comparison. They had discussed his demeanor and what he viewed as his dearth of social skills at length in the past. This gave her some faith that Andy wouldn’t take offense to being called “painfully shy” but - like usual- she couldn’t be sure.
“You think I’m a genius?” he asked.
Paige hesitated, for all she knew Andy was being completely serious. Though he was so often self-deprecating he wasn’t without pretension. When his pretention presented itself it was usually in such ridiculous ways as this.
“Well obviously, but what I meant was the whole shyness thing.” She answered, treading carefully lest she shatter the peace in the conversation.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page then,” he laughed. “I hope being painfully awkward works as well for me as it did for him”. In reality he had no faith that it would. Andy firmly believed that his feelings of worthlessness would keep him both complacent and unfulfilled for the rest of his life.
Both he and Paige occupied the conversation uneasily; weighing and thoroughly inspecting each word that came to their minds. Their conversation from earlier that night and its swift devolution into near-hysterics wasn’t far from either of their thoughts. They both knew how quickly everything could go to h*ll if one of them gave the other even the slightest inkling of their inner turmoil.
Andy knew that by staying so closed-lipped he was just adding more dynamite to the stockpile. Sooner or later one of them, full of all manner of repressed emotion, would let off a spark and send charred bits of their relationship flying. As always though, he would take that chance. Prolonging the inevitable was perhaps the only thing he could ever count on himself to do.
He cast his gaze upward from his textbook to the mirror across his room. He looked long and hard into the face now heavily coated with the night’s layer of grease. It was though he was searching for answers in the pores of his too-big nose and the bags under the eyes that had always only seen the worst.
“Hey…you still there?” She asked, after a few minutes of silence on his end.
“Yeah, yeah, sorry about that. Just sort of zoning I guess.” He didn’t want her to let her think he’d lost interest in her.
“Is something wrong? You seem you’ve got something on your mind…besides the summaries I mean” This was by far the worst question she could have asked him. Explaining what was wrong seemed beyond arduous to him.
“Nothing, really.” Again he ran and hid, they’d both expected as much.
“I don’t believe that. Sorry but you’ve been out of it all night, I know you’re busy but clearly something else is on your mind. Did I do something?” She asked; this was the kind of bombardment she only released as a last resort. No matter how much Andy irked her it was almost impossible to ask him a serious question like this without trepidation.
“Yeah, I guess you just can’t win with me.” He finally snapped. His voice hadn’t been raised, he hadn’t gotten emotional, but he’d finally said it. He couldn’t say for certain why he’d let that out; at times it seemed to them both that fights satiated him or at least slackened his crippling anxiety. It was all out in the open now.
“Excuse me?” Though remarks like this from Andy were far from atypical they still never failed to set off an alarm. Try as she could to blame herself for his anger she couldn’t help but feel he had gone too far. As usual – though she had warned him more than once – he waited and waited to say anything. Though he must have hoped for mollification she only felt worse.
“Sorry, I just…” Fumbling, he tried hopelessly to explain away his misstep. She hung up.
Andy settled further into the cold clutches of melancholy. He hunched over his textbook again and tried to go back to writing. This pursuit was even less fruitful than before. No amount of determination could pry his mind from thoughts of the shattered state of his relationship. At this hour there was no one to complain to but his own harried image in the mirror
Chapter summaries now seemed a frivolity. To him, a useless diversion from what was really important, his own self-pity. He had come to the realization that is only true aptitude lay in the implosion of things he cared about. This propensity for self-destruction had threatened he and Paige’s delicate balance all too many times, but now it seemed his erring had caused a rupture too great for repair. Andy lamented his lack of feasible plans for reconstruction. In his mind Paige could be thinking nothing else but that he had to be pruned from her life; that all remnants of his influence had to be quickly and completely eradicated.
Paige was at a loss for words as well as for ideas. She and Andy would invariably spar like this; she almost looked forward to these quick bouts to. They seemed to affirm reality to her. Though unsettling these realizations tended to be strangely comforting. Afterwards in the wake of near-destruction they would tend to come to terms in a way that made them see what had brought them together in the first place. After each swerve they’d right themselves and be all the better, all the happier, all the more together. For some reason Paige couldn’t see tonight being like those times. Andy’s unwavering pessimism - his unfailing knack for complaint - had always been a nuisance, but tonight it seemed a complete travesty.
She wondered to herself if she had finally reached the point that he seemed to inhabit; the point beyond reason, where no positivity could penetrate the thick smog of dread. Her eyes welled with tears. If only, she thought, she could reconcile her own feelings with Andy’s seeming disdain for happiness. Severally, her mind explored numerous courses of action. She contemplated calling him with an ultimatum and even calling him to end it all, removing them from this constant cycle; this cycle that taunted them with elation only to cast them headlong into despair. For now she did nothing. They really were almost too alike.