Oakland Dreaming I finish reading, close the text and lock my phone. An “informational interview,” huh? My ass. Looks like the dates off. I check the time. Jamming my phone back in my pocket I stand up and start walking, forgetting the bus. No need for speed anymore, and whenever I sit at a bus stop I can’t help but think of all the people who’ve sat just where I’m sitting and are now dead. And when you start thinking like that, the faded green and cracking wood of those bus stop benches starts to feel a lot more like a coroner’s slab. The slap-slap of my rubber thongs against the soles of my feet reminds me why I’m walking in the first place. “Informational interview?” She expects me to believe that? For what feels like the hundredth time I wonder just how long I plan to keep fooling myself. Clearly that’s what’s happening because no one with half a brain could choke down excuses like that one on a regular basis. The constant slap-slap also brings to mind how easy it’s been for us to fight recently. It’s almost always there. The last row had started over something as silly as her accidentally calling my sandals “flip-flops” (they’re thongs). I told her as much and before I knew it we were both shouting. That’s how sick of each other we are. I start a reply, and even angry as hell the best I can manage is to sound politely disinterested. I’m such a fucking pussy. I only get as far as “o rly? What 4-“ before I get cut off by the timely arrival of another SMS. “I’m sry… ur not mad at me r u?’ Bitch. Brutally efficient bitch! That’s cold, a real low blow. And the worst part? She knows what she’s doing. The whole scenario has started to acquire a feeling of déjà vu. I stop walking and sit down, not even noticing on what. Now that she’s asked the question I’m not allowed to be angry anymore or the inevitable, always fucking inevitable fight will be my fault. Taking a 27 out of my pack I light it and take a long drag while I figure out what to say next. Of course this is just my TIDS (Terminally In Denial Syndrome) manifesting itself. Of course I already know what I’m going to say next. Puffing and fuming I stop kidding myself and write a reply. “No I’m not mad. Why would I be?” I even add one of those self-effacing, lack-of-cojones verifying smileand-wink emotes. I snuff out the cigarette, get up, and start walking again. Slap-slap-slap. I look back and see that I had been sitting at a bus stop. The slap-slap of my thongs follows me home. The stable, reliable slapping. At least I can depend on it to be there. Everyone needs something they can depend on. How scary everything would be if you never could tell what was going to change or when. If the world were different every time you woke up. But that’s why you always cover for her isn’t it? This little voice in my head chimes in, like it has been for a while now. So that things will stay the same no matter how many times she fucks them up right? Slap-slap-slap. Everything’s got to change eventually. It’s just nice when there are certain dependable elements, is all. Right now I’ve got my thongs to accompany me and that’s constant enough. Slap-slap-stop. I’m standing on my doorstep, my walk of shame finally over. Two thoughts grab me as I stand at the threshold. One: I haven’t gotten another text yet. Is it finally over? Have I, by showing absolutely no backbone and a complete lack of resolve to improve anything for myself, finally driven that succubus out of my life? Two: I can
actually hear myself think. Why is my house so quiet? I sit down on the porch to mull these problems over with a cig. For the first question I reason that no, it’s not over and that she just can’t be bothered to answer me back. She sure hadn’t been bothered to meet me at her apartment last night. I figure this out by the time my cigarette is halfway finished. The second is more perplexing and I’m still working it over when the answer presents itself. “Hey man. Home already? I thought you were meeting-“ “Nope,” When you live somewhere that most of your friends think of as a second home it’s usually pretty hard to be caught off guard by who walks in or out. Imagine my surprise then when I look up to see a face I thought was in Brazil. “What’re you doing here, Keith?” I say. “I thought your voice was Nick’s, for a minute.” “You got me confused with that sack of shit? Thanks.” “Quit screwin’ around. Why’re you in town? “Outta money. Gonna mooch off the folks for a while. Where were you last night?” “That when you got in?” “Yep.” “I was out. I’m guessing you guys were partying? That why you look like so bad?” “Shut up. You missed a good one, man,” says Keith. “Everyone else is still asleep.” That’s not a good sign. Who is “everyone?” Out loud all I say is, “Oh.” “Well, I’m gonna go get cleaned up. Say hi to your girl for me.” “Gotcha. Hit me up later, man.” Watching Keith walk away, I can’t muster the willpower to tell him what I saw so crudely scribbled on his face. Oh well. He turns up the street and I catch one last glimpse of sharpie before he disappears from view. It’s about four in the afternoon. I watch the breeze push a few lonely leaves across the sidewalk, probably longer than I should. I take my phone out of my pocket and stare at it accusingly, daring it to light up. Give me one little goddamn vibration and I swear to God… Nothing. Good. Slap-slap-slap. I position myself in front of the door, ready to go in and meet “everyone.” Sunlight streams in through the half of the blinds that are still hanging, or rather under them. The house is a wreck. To call it a wreck is an insult to all demolished buildings and Hollywood explosions that have ever thrown up a cloud of dust. It’s almost impossible to tell people from refuse under all the beer bottles, swisher wrappers, and snack containers that cover the surfaces like a layer of moss. Infrequent light reflecting off glass and aluminum gives everything a shiny, dream-like quality. Suddenly, movement. From under a particularly heinous pile a hangover emerges, attached to what looks like the ghost of parties past. The spirit groans, stretches, falls, and stands back up. In a state of Scrooge-like wonderment I watch it peel half an Abba-Zabba from its face. “Whozzat?” “Morning, Sarah.”
I’m not really surprised to see her, but it’s a little odd that she isn’t upstairs with one of my roommates. At least I hadn’t been at the party or she might’ve been upstairs with me. Once again that little voice in the back of my head, the one that eschews all TIDS and other bullshit answers promptly. Would that have been so bad? It’s not like you got any last night, or will tonight. And sure maybe she’s a bit… amoral but at least Sarah’s not a bitch like“You guys had a helluva party, it looks like,” I say out loud, to keep from arguing with that voice. “What’re you doing home? I heard you had plans today.” “Cancelled. Who’s the rest?” Our conversation has awoken the other dead and now they’re all rising in unison like something out of a Romero movie. “Oh. The usual suspects.” Without the garbage camouflage they’re no longer indistinguishable. Looking around my eyes rest on Steve, Mike, Joe, and Kari, each in various states of decay, before returning to Sarah. “Have a good night?” she asks. “Depends on your definition.” “Wanna have a good afternoon?” “As if! You know he’s whipped,” joins Joe. “No thanks, Sarah. I like to keep Chlamydia where it belongs. In you.” “What the fuck! You never said nothing about that to me!” “That’s ‘coz I don’t have Chlamydia, Mike. Thanks, you jackass,” Sarah says, turning back to me. “Whatever. Where’s Jake?” “Upstairs.” Mike hesitates for a moment after answering. “Hey man, you sure she don’t have the clap?” “He’s fucking sure!” “I’m fucking sure, Mike. Thanks.” Slap-slap-slap. I leave behind all the madness and go upstairs. I glance toward my door as I pass it in the hall. Lonely as it is right now I can’t bring myself to enter. Now whose fault is that, asks the voice seductively. Slap-slap. At Jake’s room I knock loudly and wait for a reply. Dan’s either not home or else still ensconced somewhere downstairs. His door is wide open. Dan isn’t who I need to talk to, anyway. “Who’s there?” “Open up, man.” The door opens on a scene of unholy terror. Aside from the horrendous state of the room itself there’s what I can only guess to be the Frankenstein’s bride sprawled across Jake’s bed. “Sorry ‘bout the mess downstairs. I’ll get someone to help me clean if there’s anyone still here.” “Keith already left. Sarah ‘n them are still here though. Looks like a mess here
too,” I say, guiding Dan’s glance to his bed with a nod. “Tell me about it. I’m not even sure it’s human.” “Fuck.” “I hope I didn’t! Damn.” Jake has the decency to look embarrassed for a minute. “Well at least I get some help with the radioactive zone downstairs. Hey. Didn’t you have a date today?” “Cancelled. Where’s Dan?” “Dunno. You ask Kari?” “No. Why?” “She went to bed with him last night.” “Oh. I’ll check.” A tense moment passes as the unidentified slumbering object snorts and turns over. Jake stares on with grotesque fascination. “Jesus. That ass has more craters than the moon.” “Jake.” “Yeah? “Why was my date cancelled today?” “Why you askin’ me? You saw her last night.” “She’s been your best friend for ten years.” “Fuck man I don’t know!” The way he answers, so quickly and vehemently, raises my pulse. I know he’s known her a lot longer than me, but does that give him any right to put me in this situation? What does he know and why won’t he tell me? TIDS to the rescue, telling me to stop over thinking things. “Sorry man. I kinda figured you wouldn’t know.” “She didn’t say anything last night?” Jake asks. “I didn’t see her last night. Later, man.” “Where you goin’?” I’m already out the door so I pretend not to hear Jake’s last question. Slap-slapslap. I only linger downstairs for a few minutes. Everyone is too cheerful to suit my current mood. Out on the porch I light up a cigarette and get ready to lose myself for the night. The sun is high and hot and there is a breeze blowing that makes the outdoors infinitely more inviting than the stale smell of beer and camaraderie awaiting me just inside. Distant sounds of cars are easily vague enough to ring as ocean waves in my ears if my brain is receptive and deceptive enough. I resolve not to have a bad night. Maybe I’ll go to Heart & Dagger. As I get up to put my plan into action I’m assaulted by a convergence of events. Text: “Hey, u busy l8r?” Trying to think of a proper response, or more accurately trying to put off sending the foreseeable one I don’t even notice Keith stalking toward me. “Hey asshole! Why didn’t you tell me about the shit on my face?” Whoops. Before I can answer another text arrives: “Don’t ignore me!” “Hang on a sec, Keith.” I’m typing away. “I’m not ignoring y-“ “Fuck that! Don’t ignore me, answer me!” Keith’s voice is loud in my ear.
Great. Being nagged by two people at once, neither of who is putting out for me. I finish the text and send it, then turn to Keith. “I didn’t tell you because it was funny.” “Oh yeah. Great sense of humor. You know who did this?” I notice he hasn’t even cleaned his face. Text: “Well r u busy or not?!” To Keith: “Check inside.” Reply to text: “Nope. What do you have in mind? Keith: “Well fucking great. I wonder if you’d think what I just saw at Heart & Dagger was so funny.” Text reply to my reply: “I’ll figure something out ;)” Keith is gone inside before I can ask him what he meant. And, judging by the raised voices floating out from under the functioning half of blinds I won’t be getting an answer anytime soon. My reply to her reply to my reply: “Great. See you tonight.” Slap-slap go my thongs as I start for Heart & Dagger. Late afternoon heat wears at me and makes me stupid. What had Keith meant? And Jake? TIDS again, says the voice. You know. “He really said that? Did you punch him?” “I wanted to.” On the way to Heart & Dagger, to keep that voice, that tiny, irritating, unshakable, gigantic voice from driving me crazy I call up Kari to learn Dan’s whereabouts. The answer, which Dan had no doubt found comic, makes me realize how lucky I was to have seen Kari while she was still half asleep. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way,” I say. “Dan’s exact words were: ‘shove off, I’ve got a hot date.’” “Wow.” “Yeah. Can you punch that jerk when you see him?” I promise her I will to make her feel better and because Dan deserves it, anyway. Without noticing it I arrive at Heart & Dagger. “I gotta go. Bye, Kari.” “Bye.” “Wait.” “Yeah? “Who sharpied Keith?” “Ha-ha you really have to ask?” She makes me wait a second for the answer. “All of us, dummy!” “Of course. Bye.” Hang up, wipe off, lock, pocket, check hair, straighten shirt, slap-slap-stop. The bouncer’s glazed eyes hardly register my ID when I show it to him. I can’t blame him. It’s hot as hell and with the light starting to fade everything seems to say, “go to sleep and don’t worry; you’re just having a bad dream. When you go to sleep the dream won’t be there and another will be instead.” Where the hell did that come from? I shake the distracting thought from my head and walk into the culmination of my self-deception. The details really aren’t important.
We’re yelling, cursing, saying all of the things people in love or hate will say to each other to inflict wounds and show how much they care. I keep my word to Kari. Afterward, feeling that particular sort of calm that comes after the shock of a car wreck, we sit outside the bar smoking and fuming. Dan has taken off already; neither of us is looking forward to the talk that will inevitably come when I go home. She opens the dialogue. “That was a pretty dumb thing to do.” I flick the ash from my cig and look at her out of the corner of my eye. She is fucking beautiful. The whole arrangement had hurt so good, it’s no wonder I hadn’t gotten out earlier. “Oh, thanks. Great to hear that from you.” “Don’t put this on me!” “Yeah, because I sure shoved his tongue down your throat.” “At least Dan doesn’t wear flip flops to a fucking bar!” “Don’t call them flip flops you hooker.” Call it an arrangement. Rationalize it, lessen it. Pretend you knew and didn’t care. You sure as hell knew but pretended you didn’t care. Fucking TIDS, right? “Look, I’m sorry. I said I was sorry, right? Lets just forget it.” And with that single sentence, she makes everything OK for me. Not because she’s right or I’m wrong, but because I don’t care. Because I finally realize that our love isn’t gone, it never existed. My TIDS is gone. And that voice, that stupid, vanity purging, illusion shattering voice was my voice the entire time but until now I had been too fargone to listen to myself. “OK.” “Really? It’s all right? Oh baby, I’m not going to-“ “Let’s forget about the whole thing. You’re not sorry and I’m not angry-not anymore. So now’s a good time to call it quits, right? I’ll see you around, but hopefully not that much.” Walking away from a bar and a lot of trouble, slap-slap-slap, all I want is to go to sleep.