Of course, I never imagined I would be doing this: White. Mayonnaise. Ham. Pepperoni. Salami. Garden vegetable mix. Two slices Provolone.
Feeling tired of being on my feet. Sneaking a handful of mozzarella when the managers arenÕt looking. Pressing the button to see whatÕs next.
My parents still want me to apply to law school, but always encourage me to do what I feel most passionate about— so when I graduated college, I contacted this editor of an Alternative Country music magazine and sent him a record review I wrote. He told me, This shows life and an accurate knowledge of the subject—IÕll dig up something you can review for the next issue. That was half a year ago. For some reason, I emailed my review to my internet friend, Mulligan P. McCamphers. I met him on an Alternative Country Music message board, so I figure heÕll appreciate my accurate knowledge of the subject. Mulligan P. McCamphers and I will probably get married, although weÕve never met and I havenÕt chatted with him in about a year. He has a sarcastic sense of humor, has impeccable taste in literature and music, and has dealt with loss most of his life. Mulligan P. McCamphers isnÕt his real name, but thatÕs what she and I have always called him. We have nicknames for every guy, but Mulligan P. McCamphers is one of the better ones. We once called her current boyfriend Skankybeads because of a frayed and hideous hemp necklace he bought in Mexico and insisted on wearing
Every day. Of course, when they got back together after a four year separation, she wouldnÕt let me call him that anymore, but I still do it behind his back. So instead of moving to Seattle to write for this Alternative Country music magazine, I move to Kentucky to live with her; itÕs something we have always wanted to do, and Lexington seems as good of a choice as any; besides, she wants to be near him.
Seeing a negative account balance. Canceling my magazine subscriptions. Losing it.
I let them read a short story that I want to submit to a creative writing program IÕm applying to. I think of sending the story to Mulligan P. McCamphers, but he never emailed me back after I sent him the record review—and, since we donÕt have the Internet at the apartment, I donÕt chat with him anymore on Instant Messenger. She reads my short story first and then hands it to Skankybeads. Neither of them says anything when they finish, which is worse than telling me that they hate it. I suppose that if Skankybeads wasnÕt in the room, she would probably tell me what she really thinks, even if my characters are flat, I cram too much into the plot, and I need to start over. She doesnÕt comment because he doesnÕt. She doesnÕt criticize because he doesnÕt.
Skankybeads always talks about how he loves postmodern literature, but he hasnÕt heard of Nabokov—I donÕt trust his opinion after learning that, but it doesnÕt seem to bother her. A few months ago, Skankybeads wrote some novella about how when he was in fifth grade, his classmates teased him for being different; in his creative nonfiction masterpiece, he wrote about how his parents divorced, his dog died, and he fell on the playground, blah blah blah. After I pretended to read the last chapters, I wanted to say, Hey buddy, itÕs called growing up and it happens to, oh, just about everyone, but I just nodded and smiled when she started gushing about how great and well written it was.
Maybe I would have felt differently if Skankybeads had not used ÒwasÓ fifteen times in the first paragraph, or if he had named the villain something other than Oral Jay, a name that still reminds me of an off-brand toothpaste. So after the final edit, she and Skankybeads drove up to Ohio and had the novella bound. They put some kind of chintzy picture on the cover and gave it to me as a birthday gift. I told her and
Skankybeads, Thanks! What a perfect gift!, and then I accidentally dropped it in the mop bucket when I was cleaning scuffmarks off our kitchen floor. The dirty water made the chintzy picture on the front bleed, and I couldnÕt help but laugh a little at that.
Reading Pale Fire on the nights that they stay at SkankybeadÕs spare apartment. Listening to CDÕs IÕve forgotten about. Making me nostalgic and depressed.
SheÕs a little pissed that Skankybeads just handed her the ring instead of formally proposing, but not pissed enough to reject him. I want to tell her that she should have said no, but when I think about it, there is really no question to say no toÉ.so I donÕt say anything. Skankybeads is nice enough to her, even if he is an agnostic Democrat. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently. He likes the band Bright Eyes, reads Kurt Vonnegut,
does an amazing impersonation of Ty from Trading Spaces and Extreme Makeover Home Edition. CÕmon everybody, weÕre goinÕ to Sears! Skankybeads says with a wave of his arm. I canÕt help but laugh every time, but she just rolls her eyes.
She and Skankybeads grew up together and dated in high school, but she broke up with him when she decided to find herself by going to college out of state. The first week she got there, she started seeing this bore we named Green (because of a Kermit the Frog doll she found in his closet while he was showering—she and I have always liked snooping). At night when Green would fall asleep, she would take the cordless phone into the hallway of his dorm and call me to complain that he smothered her, did not give her time to write poetry, and always bought himself every CD she ever mentioned, even if he had never heard any of the songs. I knew that she still wanted to be with Skankybeads the whole time, but I told her that she should probably just be alone for a while, but sheÕs never been as good at that as I am. She and Skankybeads didnÕt talk for four years, not counting the two times I emailed him and begged him to contact her before she jumped out her dorm window; this was the one secret I kept from her, and later on when Skankybeads brought it up, I just pretended like it never happened: I always wanted her to be content.
Throwing away SkankybeadsÕ blue journal and a pile of letters that he gave her in high school. Doing it herself hurts too much, so I do it. Wondering if she wishes she had them back now.
They elope early and go to Costa Rica for the honeymoon. I burn her an Old 97Õs bootleg and an unreleased Ryan Adams session that Mulligan P. McCamphers sent me a couple of years ago. I know she will like them— she likes Alternative Country music as Mulligan P. McCamphers and I do— so I stick them under her bathing suit in her suitcase before they leave. I also burn a rare Bright EyesÕ album for Skankybeads so he wonÕt feel like IÕm leaving him out. I read in her journal once that he told her he feels like he just doesnÕt understand the two of us sometimes and feels weird when we all hang out together. I know we canÕt have that happening, so I must make small efforts here and there. IÕm surprised they packed separate suitcases. IÕm surprised theyÕre not going somewhere where she can ski. IÕm surprised sheÕs going along with this at all; I suppose the unproposal made me angrier than it made her. Before she left I kept saying, Why would you want to marry a guy who didnÕt even take you out to a restaurant or get down on one knee? Why? When they come back from the resort, she told me that they will live in his apartment until one or both of them get accepted into a Ph.D. program. I want to say, If you move somewhere with him, youÕll never get to drive the ice cream truck in the summers like youÕve wanted to do since you were four. If he gets into a school and you donÕt, you will have to work some awful job to support him, and I know thatÕs not what you want to do. I have known you twenty-three years, and I know you want more than this. More than him. DonÕt you?
Sleeping in her bed while theyÕre in Costa Rica. Wishing I had someone unpropose to me. Reading the book I gave her last Christmas and thinking the pages have never been touched.
I title my purpose statement to law school Garlic Butter and Thoughts of Law School, and when IÕm done I immediately regret that I threw away my application to the creative writing program. Real-estate law, I tell myself. I can search property titles all day, like I do now but make ten times more money. Then I will no longer have to make Submarine sandwiches in the evenings and have my Mexican co-worker Carlos call me Princess Bonita and gently tap my ass as he boxes up the drive-thru orders. Why you not go out with me? he asks. I not understand. I cute, I study English every day so I can talk at you during nighttime. And this, you ignore me, you not even look at me. I think, If I go to law school, I will no longer have to listen to Carlos whining because I not go out with him. I will no longer have to listen to people asking me if meat really comes in the meat sauce, or if the chocolate cake really has five hundred calories per slice. No, the meat sauce contains no meat, I want to respond. Someone at corporate headquarters just came up with that and we thought it sounded catchy. Meat sauce. Clever isnÕt it? And no, the chocolate cake does not have five hundred calories per slice. I know, isnÕt it great? It actually has six hundred and twenty calories. But doesnÕt it taste scrumptious? She always asks me why I want to work here, and I tell her: They were taking applications. I am broke. I am not above working in fast food. I never see you anymore. Actually, I leave out the last sentence, but itÕs pretty much implied. She doesnÕt make much money either, but Skankybeads buys her groceries and sometimes CDÕs when his pot money comes through.
Burning my arm on the stove. Squirting a new bag of mayonnaise into the canister instead of putting the mayonnaise into a clean canister. Getting yelled at for doing so.
The postcard says WeatherÕs great, wish you were hear! Is this what heÕs done to you? I think. I want to send her a postcard that says IÕd like to be there too, but IÕve never seen any Lexington postcards. ThatÕs what IÕll do, I think. Start a Lexington postcard business. I can put Ale-8 bottles on the front. Tubby SmithÕs face with a big red line through the middle of it—now that one might actually sell. I want to tell her the apartment is so quiet without her and that even though I still canÕt really afford it, I finally got the Internet to keep myself busy. I want to tell her that I started talking to Mulligan P. McCamphers again on Instant Messenger and that I talk to him for hours every night. He makes me laugh with his stories about how he once burned down the porch of his fraternity house because he wanted to set off fireworks in the middle of the night for no good reason, and he makes me cry with stories about how his dad died when he was eleven and how an ex-girlfriend once got an abortion and waited three years to tell him. I want to tell her that yes, IÕve finally seen a picture of Mulligan P. McCamphers; yes, it was a little blurry, but from what I could see, he is very trim and good-looking— in fact, much better looking than Skankybeads (who put on a beer gut during college and still wears fraying hemp necklaces and flip-flops during the winter). I want to tell her that Mulligan P. McCamphers convinced me to defer law school for at least a year; I want to tell her that he loves me, really truly loves me, even though he is not sure he can ever meet me because his car might break down on the four-hour drive from Chattanooga to Lexington. I donÕt mention that he has read Nabokov. DoesnÕt she want me to be happy like sheÕs happy with Skankybeads? DoesnÕt she?
Getting lost on the way home from work even though I should know better by now. Throwing my apron (that smells like burnt crust) in the hall closet now that no one elseÕs clothes are in there. Staring at the computer screen until the letters start to wave back and forth.
I donÕt want to tell anyone that late at night when I have insomnia and Mulligan P. McCamphers is long signed off Instant Messenger, I roll the Tylenol PM bottle back and forth between my hands and listen to the pills rattle. I want to call and tell her other things, but now she has to get up really early to work a desk job so she can support Skankybeads while he gets his Ph.D. in something absurd like the Geography of southern Indiana. I want to take every pill in the bottle one by one, swallow them whole without a glass of water, but I donÕt. Instead I put the bottle down, ball up my fist and beat my leg until the spot turns the same color blue as that journal I threw away for her when Skankybeads was nothing more than old, empty words and memories on a page.
Hitting myself is so much more original than cutting. Cutting leaves scars. Bruising is easier to cover up.
Sometimes when I finally fall asleep, I dream that IÕm working all night long, slipping on wet floors and burning pans of lasagna. Simple tasks like making paninis help take my mind off everything: Round bun. Italian dressing. Turkey pack. One slice Provolone.
Looking at the order screen. Trying not to think about anything. Pressing the button to see whatÕs next.