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I am most definitely not dressed for success. My interview is in an hour, yet I’m curled up on my burn-hole ridden couch under my favorite blanket watching channel 4 news, sipping coffee and rocking my sweatpants right along with last night’s ketchup stain. It’s almost pitch black in here despite the not-so-early hour of the morning because the lower my electricity bill the more days I’ll be able to eat this month.
I wait until they finish up with the weather which shows nothing but this hammering, ice cold rain for the next three straight days before slithering out from inside my cocoon and wandering into the bathroom.
My reflection is almost as depressing as the broken mirror I’m standing in front of, my pale green eyes wide with uncertainty, rimmed with puffy red skin that ages me at least five years. I don’t sleep much anymore and it’s finally starting to show. I let my hair down from the bun it was in and it falls in messy, tangled bunches down my back, which means I should probably take a shower. Sounds like an awful lot of work, but I really do need this job. Ramen Noodles don’t buy themselves.
I make the shower quick, skipping the less necessary things like shaving, and towel dry my hair before hopping into the only pair of dress pants and nice shirt that I own, stringing the lock and key necklace around me like I have for the last ten years before digging out my makeup from under a pile of hair ties and dust. A little eyeliner and a little mascara can make all the difference. That’s what I tell myself.
I’m back in front of the mirror in less than half an hour, eyes still puffy but hidden underneath a veil of makeup, hair significantly less greasy and outlook just a little bit brighter now that the caffeine I down like an alcoholic who drinks just to get rid of the shakes has made it to my nervous system. I sigh because it feels good to sigh and tug the left sleeve of my shirt down over my arm and most of my hand, but that tiny metal rectangle still bulges on the inside of my wrist. Sometimes I swear I can feel it ticking, like it has its own heartbeat. I haven’t looked at it in over a week. I refuse. I have twenty minutes to get to the diner up the road which should be no problem. Procrastination always works out for me.
I lock my front door to prevent anyone from getting disappointed if they try to rob me and almost trip over a stray cat on my way down the stairs, which are painted black, since having a dark stairwell isn’t dangerous or depressing enough. No sir.
My sex chariot of a 1994 Toyota Celica is waiting on the curb for me with an almost empty tank of gas, but I’m getting punched in the face by raindrops that feel more like shotgun shells so I unlock the passenger door and climb over the shifter rather than fight with the driver’s door, which is almost dented shut. Inside smells like cigarettes and French fries which somehow is comforting to me and I take a deep breath as she thunders to life. Oh yeah, nothing like the sound of a leaky exhaust to harmonize with the rain.
I make it to the diner in under ten minutes which makes me five minutes early so I give myself a mental high five for being so damn successful before shutting off my beast and grabbing my bag off the passenger seat and making a run for the door.
Thanks to the prime weather conditions here in the great city of Milwaukee, my hair is a lot less flowy and my makeup looks like it’s from last night but I give the manager my best smile and prattle on about prior waitressing experience and about how reliable I am while the hard metal chair stabs me in the spine. He nods and agrees with everything I say, not really asking questions, but moreso letting me make an idiot out of myself before saying the job is mine and telling me I start on Monday at seven. In the morning. Because according to him people actually wake up that early.
I reach out my right hand to shake his which he obliges, but I see his eyes cast downward to my left wrist which is still hidden by my sleeve that I keep pulled down firm. It’s always bothered me how people are so morbidly curious, how they need to see a timer other than their own. He catches my look and smiles at me, all crooked teeth and bad eyebrows, so I stand up and adjust my shirt before heading out of there with a huff of relief and dread. I have a job. I have a crappy job.
By the time I get back into my apartment it’s only eleven, so I begrudgingly turn on a couple of lights and the television, opening every cabinet in the kitchen just to make sure there’s still nothing to eat in here. Which there isn’t, just to be clear, so I flop back down on the couch and wiggle out of my pants, just sitting there in my dress shirt and underwear like the class act that I am.
Out of nowhere I’m assaulted by an urge I don’t usually get – an urge to roll up my sleeve and look. It hits me so suddenly that I’m a little thrown off, because I spend the majority of my life avoiding it like an Ebola breakout. Maybe it has something to do with that look I got from my new boss, maybe that set me off. I’m frustrated with myself like always. I hate everything it represents, everything it means for me and for society, and it seems like I’m the only one that feels this way. I don’t get giddy at the sight of the seconds, minutes, hours, days ticking down like some twisted telethon. My heart doesn’t race knowing every step I take is bringing me closer. I just get nauseas, yet for some reason I rip my sleeve back and face reality in the form of a little stainless steel rectangle.
122. 45. 32. 54.
One hundred twenty two days, forty five hours, thirty two minutes and fifty four seconds until this piece of technology we are all bound to from the day we are born says I’ll meet my soul mate. It’s a perfect system, according to the government presentation we were all exposed to by the age of seven. They have each and every one of us in their database, we’re all just a file of genetic material to them, and they match us with whoever will create the most ideal offspring at the appropriate time in our lives. To most of my fellow Americans, it’s a blessing. They spend all of their childhood and for some, a good portion of adulthood, waiting to look into the eyes of the person a bunch of wealthy white men in Aramani suits say is best. I think it’s disgusting, but like I said, I’m virtually alone in my thought process. Gone are the days I’ve only ever read about where love was based upon random life events, where you never knew who you would meet or how it would happen.
I can remember several girls I went to school with had their timers end in the cafeteria our junior and senior year and everyone went wild when it happened. The sound of that piece of steel hitting cheap tile floor set the entire place on fire, all cheers and yelling as the two realized just who they were to one another. Cassie Stukel had been excited – she’d been matched with the running back of our football team and basked in the jealous stares of her classmates as they kissed next to the pizza line. Lacey Peters on the other hand almost dissolved into tears when she came to realize her other half had just returned from another round of suspension for drug possession and was almost too stoned to understand what was happening. Clearly this matchmaking process doesn’t always create the ‘perfect offspring.’
Of course, I could always walk away from whoever I’m matched with, but it’s been burned into our brains how selfish of an act it is to leave one person without a partner for their entire life because of your own beliefs. People who deny their matches tend to live on the fringes of society – they are outcasts and criminals, unable to admit what they’ve done without fear of ridicule or worse. It has become the ultimate sin. Some days I worry I’ll become one of them. Some days I worry I want to become one of them.
I immediately regret looking. One hundred twenty two days is just a couple of months away and I want nothing more than to run from it. I want to hide, want to change my name and rip the thing out from my skin. Just the thought makes my palms sweat and my heart beat a lot faster than is necessary for sitting on the couch. I’m breathing a little heavy too, and almost scream out loud when a knock on the door echoes through the empty space around me.
People don’t ever knock on my door unless my rent is late so I hop back into my pants and wipe my sweaty hands on them before undoing the deadbolt and yanking it open to see a worried looking guy around my age holding two puppies.
“Hi, my name’s Andrew and I’ve been going around door to door because I found these little guys this morning and I can only keep one. This is the only apartment complex around here that allows dogs. There’s only two left,” he says, thrusting both of them at me like he wants to drop and run. The poor things are maybe a few weeks old and whining for their mom, eyes barely open. They’re both black but the smaller of the two has a blue eye that’s crusted with dirt.
“Look man, they’re adorable but I can barely keep food in my own stomach,” I start, but I scoop up the blue eyed one against my will and it snuggles against my collar bone, quieting instantly. What the hell. This is torture.
“Yeah, I hear ya, but if I can’t find them homes they’re going back on the street,” he says, shifting back and forth. I can feel that the puppy I’m holding is far too skinny and probably won’t live long without food and a good deworming. I’m going to kick myself for this. Hopefully my new job pays enough to feed two.
I hold the fluff ball up to my face and it pokes its tongue out which almost has me in tears. When it comes to people, I very rarely feel much sympathy. People make choices, they are in control of their lives, but animals are at the mercy of those choices. I have no idea how big this dog is going to get someday and it could die on me in a day, but I’m already attached to the damned thing because animals are my weakness. I snuggle with it for a few moments before saying anything.
“Yeah, I’ll keep it,” I sigh. The guy beams at me and adjusts his hold on the last one, and I yell at myself internally that I can’t take that one too.
“Thank you so much,” he gushes. “They’re the sweetest things. I don’t know who could abandon them.” I nod, not really paying attention to anything other than my new friend who may be exactly what I need.
I close the door behind me and try not to panic over what I’ve just done. This little thing is going to need to be fed all the time, which is fine until Monday when I have to go to work. Maybe I’ll just bundle it up in a box with blankets in my car and sneak out every few hours. Maybe my boss likes dogs and will understand. Probably not.
“You really are adorable,” I coo at it, which reminds me that I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I take a quick peek and decide it’s a girl. I’ll find out for sure sooner or later.
“You need a name,” I muse out loud, puppy in one hand, gallon of milk in the other. I know that cow’s milk isn’t the best thing for something this young but until I can get to the pet store and figure something else out, this will have to do.
I find an old turkey baster in a drawer and wash it out quick before filling it full of warmed up milk and sitting down on the couch, puppy cuddled into the blanket I was using, and she has no problem figuring out how to lap up the milk I dribble into her mouth. She takes down almost all of it before letting out a sigh and promptly falling asleep, little stomach moving up and down. She’s bone-thin, but I’ll change that quickly. We can share McDonald’s together. I’m sure she’ll love chicken nuggets as much as I do.
“It’s just you and me now,” I say to her and I have to admit it feels good to talk to another living thing. I’ve always avoided owning an animal because they’re a responsibility and I haven’t always been the most dependable person, but this little girl and I are meant to be together. I’m now thoroughly convinced as I watch her sleep, paws twitching every once in a while with some dream she’s having.
I adjust her gently after my leg falls asleep and swing my feet up onto the couch, puppy in lap and flip through channels while she slumbers on my stomach. My phone rings from the coffee table and I glance at the caller ID, not intending to answer it until I see that it’s Mykaela.
“What’s up?” I answer.
“How’d the interview go?” she asks, sounding a little distracted.
“Fine, I got the job. I start Monday.” She’s quiet for a few seconds. I wonder what she’s doing.
“Good. I’m coming over,” she announces. I groan a little internally because despite her being my best friend, I’m not the company type. And I was really looking forward to quality time with puppy all afternoon.
“Fine, but I’m kicking you out by five,” I sigh, which doesn’t even begin to deter her.
“Deal.” She hangs up and I drop my phone on the floor, laying my head back and deciding to take a quick nap with puppy. We’re going to get along great.
I wake up to rapping on the door again so I yell to her that I’ll be there in a minute before carefully picking up the bundle of furry animal and blanket and moving her to my bedroom. I make a nest inside my wicker laundry basket so she can’t get hurt and hurry to yank the door open. Mykaela’s all bouncing blonde hair and fake nails as she drops down on the couch.
“You need to get out of this place,” she comments, wrinkling her nose at the sight of my peeling wallpaper and old carpet. “It’s kind of gross.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed. I’m also broke.”
“I offered to let you live with me but you’re too stubborn,” she rolls her eyes at me.
“I’m not big on roommates,” I shrug. “Not even you. Sorry, love.”
“Whatever, be that way,” she grumbles.